You would think after getting so sick of Indian food, we wouldn’t have touched a plate since Delhi. However, there is a huge Indian population in Dubai and their food is radically cheaper than other restaurants so we gave in and dined on masala dosa. Most of the morning we relaxed after getting in so late the night before, and eventually walked down to the water along the Creek. Dubai is situated along the ocean, but a large creek extends from the ocean and cuts into the land, which provided huge advantages with shipping back in Dubai’s history. Now the Creek is lined with industrial shipyards, commercial buildings, and waterfront restaurants. There were even a few stalls set up with gambling games and prizes ranging from stuffed animals to iPhones. It seemed like an adult version of a fair midway lane.
Byron had a friend from his first Semester at Sea voyage who happened to live and work in Dubai. She met us at our hotel and brought us to an incredible rooftop bar along the grand Sheik Zayed Road. The view of the city was unreal with the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world) sparkling at the top and the lights of traffic going to the mall glowing down below. We felt quite luxurious sipping fancy drinks on top of the city while sharing stories about the trip and learning about what it’s like to live here.
She led us across the boulevard to an outdoor restaurant with the most delicious hummus I’ve ever tasted. She treated us to a huge meal of pita bread, cheese, a calzone-like dish, shawarma and more until we couldn’t eat a single bite more. It was great having someone to show us some local food and culture.
We slept in after our late night dinner and only left the hotel once our stomach growling couldn’t be ignored. A chicken burger and an avocado shake cured our hunger before we walked to the Dubai Museum. I’ll admit, I was surprised at how far back the history of Dubai went considering the growth into the massive city it is today was only happened in the last fifty years. The displays illustrated ways of living in the desert environment, like in Bedouin tribes always on the move. It was entirely within my parent’s lifetime that simple desert life changed with the discovery with oil and entering the global trading market.
The Old Souk was close to the museum and ran parallel to the Creek. I thought after India, no one could sell as aggressively, but the market was just filled with Indians selling here in Dubai. They were pretty assertive, but I managed to bargain hard for elephant pants I had wanted since India.
Even though our tired hotel didn’t have a pool, they had an agreement with a hotel down the street to offer guests access. We took advantage of this and cooled down from the afternoon heat while relaxing and reading.
As soon as the sun went down, we strolled along the waterfront and sat in the plush chairs at one of the many restaurants. We decided not to go with cheap Indian food and instead splurged on a middle eastern snack plate, grilled beef and an apple flavored shisha to dine with the locals. Every dip on the sampler plate was incredible and the pita bread was the perfect way to taste each one. The atmosphere was relaxing, with the water reflecting the city lights and the sweet smell of shisha smoke in the air. Byron and I took the time to reflect on the trip and all the incredible things we accomplished, feeling quite bittersweet that we were nearing the end. I was amazed we still weren’t sick of each other and genuinely looked forward to spending each day together. Reflecting made me even more grateful for having this opportunity to travel and see so many different cultures.
Today was the start of our quest to buy a middle eastern hookah, as we felt this would be a perfect souvenir to take home. Our search started at the Old Souk but the shop owners were more aggressive than ever. I was walking down the lane when a man started shouting about his good prices and his authentic pashmina scarves and then blocked my path and started to wrap a scarf around my neck. There is a line when it comes to selling things and he crossed it.
“Get out of my way, and don’t touch me,” I fumed.
The same thing happened to Byron when a vendor chased him down the street trying to put a turban on his head. We were frustrated by the high prices of the hookahs and the disrespectful vendors, so we went back to the hotel empty handed.
Our Semester at Sea friend invited us out again after she finished work, so we took the metro to Dubai Mall to meet her. This is one of the worlds largest shopping malls and not only has hundreds of luxury brand names, but also an indoor aquarium with exotic sharks and a skating rink. I easily would have gotten lost without the help of our friend, who expertly guided us to the fountains in front of the Burj Khalifa. Apparently these were designed by the same person that did the Bellagio fountains, but as soon as the streams of water splashed high in sky and danced to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, I knew this was much better. The fountains spanned the entire cove and were choreographed with such small detail to create synchronized movements. The final blast of water hung in the air for several seconds while the Burj Khalifa twinkled.
Next on our itinerary was a fancy meal on a balcony overlooking the posh marina area. The view was stunning and the duck pad thai dish was delicious. I felt like I was experiencing Dubai properly in all its luxury.
Next, we took a taxi to the hotel that our friend worked for, which just so happened to be on the Palm, the man-made island in the shape of a palm tree. Our view from the balcony restaurant looked out over the beach to the illuminated skyscrapers in the distance. We continued to indulge with a guava mango shisha, chocolate chili cake, and tasty mint drinks. It all felt surreal living this sort of lifestyle, but I loved every second of it and am so grateful for our friend giving us this magical experience.
Last day of our journey. We packed our backpacks for the very last time, feeling nostalgic already. I ditched anything I wouldn’t be using back in the states and left the bags with the hotel so we could enjoy our last few hours in the city.
After experiencing the city from within, we thought it’d be fun to hop on a ferry boat that cruised past the city for a completely different perspective. The skyline was just visible through the haze, but we all were impressed when we passed the famous Burj al Arab building, a seven star hotel known for its sail shape. The ferry dropped us off next to the Marina Mall and we were still determined to find the right hookah to bring home. We asked a restaurant serving shisha for recommendations after wandering the mall hoping to find wifi. They sent us off on a wild goose chase to a certain neighborhood off of the Business Bay metro stop. Despite his assurance that we could ask anyone in the area and they’d know exactly where to point us, no one had a clue. A hotel concierge sent us to a mall, where another restaurant worker instructed us to go to a different neighborhood lined with hookah stores. There wasn’t a bus stop close by, so Byron hopped on the display laptops in the electronics store and determined we should walk to the Dubai Mall. Our walk was hindered by massive construction projects, forcing us to walk a wide loop around and eventually to the trolley stop. This took us to the entrance of the mall. We found the lone hookah store without getting too lost, but they were all over $100, which was way out of our budget. Frustrated, we grabbed dinner in the food court and headed back to the Creek area and the Old Souk again, our last resort. It was getting dark and we had little time before we had to get to the airport, so we power walked from the metro station. Along the way, a row of hookahs in the display window of a grocery store caught my eye. We gave it a shot and went inside. Sitting there on the shelf was the gaudiest hookah with a camel statue as the base. It was perfect and cost half the price of any others we had seen. We must have passed the supermarket plenty of times before but never saw the camel. We bought it, sped back to the hotel to grab our luggage and headed to the airport for our long journey home.