Sun, sea, sand… and snow?

And on to number 14 – Dubai, another one-night stop. You know, I’m not sure if this is a country, a state or a region. It’s one of the United Arab Emirates, a group of recently-rich oil states which are spending their money predominantly on property development to try and entice tourists in.

I arrived at what will soon be the old airport. A new one at least four times the size is under construction further to the west of the city. In fact, that’s a hugely common theme across Dubai – construction. And on a silly scale. The tourist map I have must be around one third full of areas marked as “under construction” and I hear that 60% of the world’s cranes are located here.

My flight was on the flag-carrier, Emirates, and I have to say it was one of the least comfortable flights I’ve had. Especially given the company’s reputation I thought the plane was very poor. Great staff, but the seat was uncomfortable and the TV screen on my seat didn’t work properly. The food wasn’t that great, either.

Annoyingly, my flight landed at 4:30am and I discovered that the first public bus wasn’t due until 7:41. Well, after immigration I only had just over two hours to kill so I kicked back, fired up the laptop and enjoyed free internet. Then, a few minutes after logging off I reconnected after the 7:41 bus just drove past a bunch of people waving like madmen at the stop. Just like being back home. Only a little warmer.

At 8:11, I caught the next bus which decided to try the mind-boggling technique of stopping and handed over my smallest bill – 100 Dirham. The driver laughed and asked if I had change. Erm, no. He took my 100 and popped it by his window.

A short drive later, he waved me forward and returned my hundred. “This your stop – Al Ahli Club” which turned out to be a footie ground, not the nightclub I’d imagined. Either way, I’d saved 1.5 Dirham on the bus far by not having change which was a good start.

The next 45 minutes or so were spent walking around in utter confusion up and down a main road trying to locate the hostel from the rather inadequate directions from their web site. I finally approached the nice men with guns at the Central Police Headquarters who kindly pointed me in the right direction. Had I got off at the next stop, I’d have been able to see it.

Finally, drenched in sweat and with arms like Popeye courtesy of my laptop bag I walked up to reception and checked in. A kindly American girl told me what her group had done and how much to pay, and the chap on reception gave me a written list of buses I should need. I ditched my stuff in my room, had a much-needed shower and walked to the bus stop with the aim of visiting the Gold Souk and then the Mall of Emirates.

After an hour during which time roughly 12 buses had driven right past (except one, which disgorged four people then sped off without letting anyone else on) I gave up and walked to a nearby mall for a nice Indian lunch. Back to the bus stop and a 25-minute wait until I finally got picked up.

The bus arrived at the Gold Souk around thirty minutes later. This is an area filled with shops which sell – you guessed it – gold. However, being a Friday everywhere was closed. I waited thirty minutes to board another bus to the Emirates Mall despite three being sat there for ages. I think this was due to my arrival coinciding with prayer time. Another hour and I stepped off this bus around ten minutes’ walk from the mall. Believe it or not, there’s no direct route from one of the major bus stations to the largest mall in Dubai.

It’s an awesome, though ugly, building. At 1km x 3km in rough dimensions, it’s the same size as the original Dubai. Mind, the original Dubai didn’t have an indoor snow slope squirming its way overhead.

I grabbed lunch from Carrefour then walked around a few camera shops to locate a replacement for the Olympus I lost in Laos. I settled on a newer model for around the same price, so I’m now the owner of a 770sw. Everywhere charged the same price and there just didn’t seem to be any haggling possible, but I did manage to get a 2Gb memory card.

My main reason for visiting the mall was to see the ski slope so I walked off that way and sat down to set up the camera. I had to go to an information desk to borrow some scissors to get into the memory card pack and an Indian chap talked briefly to me while I was stood there. This seems inoccuous, but remember that it happened!

Camera set up, I started to fiddle with it. Only to find that it sometimes wouldn’t switch on unless I popped the battery out and back in, and kept “forgetting” the date and asking me for it again when it did power on. Good job it failed now rather than a few weeks down the line. Back to the shop.

Oh, what fun I had trying to explain this to the muppet at the counter. When I handed him the camera, it wouldn’t switch on – the same problem I had. He did the same thing – battery out; battery in. Then it worked. I explained that’s exactly the problem I’d had. He poked and prodded, swapped the battery around and said “no problem”.

“No. There is a problem. You had the problem. When I gave you the camera it didn’t work. And it had lost the date.”

“But it works. See? You will have no problem with this camera.”

“It has a problem. You saw the problem. It has done it three times now. I am concerned that it will do it again.”

He looked puzzled. “No, no problem. See? It works.”

“It works now, it didn’t work before, it could stop working again. Can you please swap it for another one?”

“What is problem?”

I literally lowered my head and banged it on the counter top. He genuinely seemed to have mentally blanked out the fact that the camera had failed to power up when I handed it to him. I think my anguish finally got through and he swapped it for another one, telling me that there’s an international warranty anyway so it’s not an issue. Well, it is an issue when you’re waking around Europe for 3 months and can’t spend a month in one place waiting for a replacement.

Anyway.

Next stop, Ski Dubai. For around £20, I got all my kit (except gloves and a hat as if you need them) and two hours on the slope. Oh, man, it was good. Take your choice of chair-lift or a drag-lift, two routes down the top half and a few jumps and pipes. Death defying photographers at the bottom try to snap you as you come to a stop and sell you the pictures. I have no idea how much they charge. I was too busy having fun.

Two hours, twelve runs and my times dropped from 10 minutes a run down to 7 as I got my feet under me again. I didn’t fall down until I started trying too hard towards the end, which impressed me no end as I’ve not had a board on my feet since New Zealand last year.

Great fun and well worth the money. It also helped me work up an appetite so that I could locate a KFC and partake in one of my customary “if there’s one in the country I have to eat there” meals.

Getting back to the hostel was “fun”, by which I mean “frustrating”. I couldn’t even find a bus stop after a twenty minute walk back down the road I’d come in on and ended up catching a taxi which cost a small fortune. The trip to the mall took almost three hours and cost 4.5 Dirham. The drive back took twenty minutes and cost 50.5 Dirham. Ouch. Definitely cheaper as a group.

I booked a city tour for the next day and prompty zonked out in bed.

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