Sunday, 27 May 2007

Jebel Hafeet

Last Thursday evening we headed down to Abu Dhabi for a weekend of relaxation and quality time. We stayed the first night at the Mercure hotel which is on top of a mountain called Jebel Hafeet (‘jebel’ means mountain in Arabic). It was approx 1.5 hours drive from Dubai and I have to say that I was really looking forward to getting out of Dubai for some R&R. By the time we got there it was dark, but the road up the side of the mountain was well lit with spotlights highlighting the cliffs, no pretence of energy conservation here, and there were many places to park and take in the views down to the plain below with the lights of Al Ain in the distance. Photos are here.

The Mercure hotel sits on a cliff top with stunning views out over the UAE and Oman. The hotel has a hanging garden type theme, the carpets in the hallways have a river stone pattern, the walls in the corridors have jungle carpet on them and the open areas of the corridors have hanging vines from floor to ceiling. The rooms are big and have a balcony but unfortunately the room we were given was right underneath the nightclub. Might as well have moved the bed onto the dance floor it was that loud. The Philipino band in the nightclub wasn’t bad though and they did a pretty good version of “I will survive” which earnt them a big cheer from the crowd who by 1 or 2 am seemed to be really getting into the swing of things! While this was going on above us, from the hotel's pool area came the warbling of a trio who were playing a full repertoire of torturous MOR favourites; lots of BeeGees ballads and heaven help me, “Feeeeeelings, nothing more than feeeeelings”. That’s the sort of music that drives sensitive souls to homicide.

We spent the next morning by the pool dozing to recover from our involuntary Night on Disco Island. Later we went up to the top of the mountain where there is a large car park and restaurant. Its very popular with local people who come up there as it’s a lot cooler than down on the plain. Near the top of the mountain is the huge palace belonging to Sheikh Kalifa the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. The staff quarters alone are huge and then there’s a long driveway lined with arches which winds up to the main house. We then drove down the mountain taking in the superb views and went to the Intercontinental Hotel at Al-Ain for the night. We spent the evening at a bbq with friends who live in Al-Ain. They bemoaned the state of SA rugby, Colin bemoaned the state of Aus rugby and I was obnoxiously confident that the AB’s are going to win the World Cup! (They’d better or I can never show my face in Al-Ain again…….)

We spent the following morning reading and, after retrieving the Prado, the afternoon was spent by the pool at the Intercon. Lovely facilities, well equiped gym and a pool designed like a rock pool with a swim-up bar that serves very tasty Virgin Pinacoladas.

In the late afternoon we returned to Dubai, looked at an Audi RS6 for sale out at Al Aweer, drooled over the other outrageous cars on sale out there (photos are here) and then went to see the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Gold Class, a first for me, and it’s the only way to go…… The movie is enjoyable but probably about half an hour too long and there were some side stories that really didn’t add anything to the film itself but that’s an extra half hour in Gold Class so there’s nothing wrong with that. Great special effects and Keith Richards is perfect as Johnny Depp’s Dad.

Aerosmith play here on Thursday at the Exiles Rugby Club, should be good.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Dubai: Where the car is king

Photo - Gulf News

The first part of the Metro rail system which is under construction in Dubai is due to open in 2009, inshallah, and it can't happen soon enough. At the moment getting around Dubai is a nightmare. The car is king and the roads can't cope with the volume of traffic. Everywhere is a wall to wall traffic jam, the BurJuman roundabout is one of the scariest places on earth particularly if you're a pedestrian, public transport is virtually non-existent. Taxis refuse to take passengers because according to a couple of drivers who've refused to take me over the Creek, they end up spending too long in traffic jams, (Ha? I don't get that reasoning either. The meter is ticking while they're stuck in the queue, the longer the delay the more they get paid). Of course, that's if you can even get a taxi! There is a bus system but a Filipina workmate tells me that the bus drivers are *really* scary. There are only a few seats at the front of the buses where women are allowed to sit and if those seats are full when the bus arrives at your stop, and you're a woman, then you won't be allowed to get on. There may be spare seats in the 'mens' section but women cannot sit there. Women are also not allowed to stand in the buses, even if they could stand in the part of the aisle that passes through the 'women only' seating. Men would have to brush past any standing woman as they go the mens seats, haram! The buses are seldom used by expats and never used by 'locals'. So the car rules. As a result of the traffic problems, people often don't go out in the evening as it takes so long to get from one part of the city to another. One evening it took us 2.5 hours in the rush hour to get from Bur Dubai to Deira - the return trip at 1am took 10 minutes. I have a few photos of the construction work on the Metro here.

Have you ever thought the Bayeaux Tapestry looked liked like a cartoon? You did? Then you'll love this brilliant piece of work on YouTube.

It's a strange thing, but in Dubai during summer everyone turns off their hot water systems. The water that comes out of the cold tap is warm enough to shower in.

Soirse (Soraya) is safely here after finishing her contract at the VIP Club in Casablanca, Morocco. She now has a two month contract at the Carlton Tower Hotel in Dubai, followed by at least a month at a hotel in Ras al Khaimah (another of the Emirates). It's been great to catch up on all the news from both the work-world and the parallel universe that is bellydance. On the subject of b/d, it might come as a surprise, it is to me, that I'm teaching again. Just a couple of students at the moment but with so many other people on the "If you ever start teaching give me a call" list that I could have classes every night. But, been there, done that and we know that burn out is not a pretty thing don't we?

And now something know who you are....
Q - How many emos does it take to change a lightbulb?
A - None, they just sit in the dark and cry.

Monday, 7 May 2007

From A to Bih: A trip down the Wadi

On Friday a group of us did the drive through Wadi Bih, 6 cars, all 4x4s. We started the day by meeting at the mall in RAK (Ras al Khaimah) for coffee then headed out. The route which is shown in the map at the top, was from Dubai to Dibba in the emirate of Fujairah on the East Coast. The photos are here.

The drive through the wadi from one side to the other takes about 3 and a half hours. There are some steep climbs which give spectacular views and the highest point is around 1200m. Some parts of the wadi are really narrow with high cliffs towering over the road. When it floods the water rushes down the wadi carrying everything away with it.

There's a UAE checkpoint on the way into the wadi. As usual we all had to hand over our passports and our names were written into a book that's kept in the little office building. This is ok and we all sat in our air-con cars (it was 40 outside) and admired the barricade arm across the road which is weighed down with rocks. In a new twist however each car was searched. The 'educated guess' is that they were looking for contraband being taken out of the UAE, or maybe the jewellery that was stolen in The Great Wafi Mall Gem Heist. We all had to get out of the cars while the checkpoint guys made a very cursery search and looked in the glovebox of each car. The irony was that at the Omani checkpoint only Colin had to show his passport which apparently was good enough for all 5 cars and they let us through.

After the drive through Wadi Bih we arrived at Dibba on the coast of the Gulf of Oman. While to the passing tourist it looks like one small town, Dibba is in fact three separate villages; Dibba Bayah, ruled by the Sultanate of Oman, Dibba Muhallab, ruled by the Emirate of Fujairah and Hisn Dibba, ruled by the Emirate of Sharjah. Dibba is famous as the site of one of the biggest battles in the Ridda Wars. The Ridda or Apostacy Wars were a series of military campaigns to ensure the reconquest of Arabia by Muslim armies in the generation after the death of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Many tribes that had converted to Islam during the Prophet's lifetime did not feel bound to the new religion following his death. Tribes in the Dibba area along with many in Oman had even decided to follow another prophet named Laqit (which oddly enough means 'bastard' in Arabic). In 632AD, Caliph Abu Baker who was the elected successor to the Prophet (pbuh) sent armies from Mecca to return the entire Arabian peninsula to the Muslim fold. The Muslim army reached Dibba in 633AD and a great battle ensued. There is a cemetery in the plain behind Dibba which local legend says contains the graves of up to 10,000 dead from that battle.

We had lunch at the new Rotana hotel in Fujairah, very nice. There was a motorcycle club having their anniversary run there. In Dubai even bikies stay in 5 star hotels.

In the afternoon we went for a swim at the beach at Fujairah and saw schools of tiny yellow and black striped fish, later watching the men pulling in the fishing net on to the beach, only a few fish so there wasn't much return for such a lot of work. There is a fish market in Fujairah which opens about 4pm and for a few dirhams the stall owners will fillet your choice of fish for you.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

A life on the ocean wave...........

We did the dinner cruise on the Bateau Dubai last Thursday evening. The Bateau is a large boat with glass sides and glass roof that does a 4 hour cruise up and down the Creek in Dubai. The service is great, the maitre d remembered me from a previous visit a month or so ago. The food is sensational, its a 4 course dinner with 4-5 choices for each course, the hammour (local fish) is divine and the chocolate dessert is worth the cost of the cruise alone. Alcohol isn't served until after the boat has left the dock but the waiters bring round fruit cocktails prior to departure. We stood on the deck outside between courses and watched the world...and the jellyfish...go by.

Friday morning we hit the beach for the first swim for this summer. It was a quick one as it was around midday and the sun was fierce. The water temp was 29 degrees but weirdly enough it seemed to be refreshingly cool. Later in the summer the water temp reaches 35 degrees plus and going for a swim is like walking into a warm bath.
A local developer has plans for a long section of the beach to be shut off from the public so that it can be built on. An ugly corrogated iron fence was erected along the beach line which caused a real public outcry and for once expats and locals were all on the same page. There were articles in the papers, lots of comment on the radio, petitions etc. The developers were unmoved, refusing to remove the fence until Sheik Mo himself stepped in and told them the fence had to come down which it did almost overnight. When Sheik Mo says "Make it happen", it happens! The beach will still be developed and the public will loose access but no doubt it will now be done piecemeal so the effect isn't so noticeable.

A Life on the Ocean Wave: A poem by Epes Sargent put to music by Henry Russell.