A warm welcome in Dubai
After 10 hours in a comfortable night boat, we arrived at Dubai. We had to wait 5 more hours, 3 on the water and two at the dock, until we could actually leave the boat. But it was fine by us, because were heading for another adventure: Dubai! When we arrived at passport control everybody was super friendly, we could skip the line with our bikes and the employees were all dressed in shiny white clothing with a turban. The guy that helped us had very shiny teeth and could perfect English.
The harbor manager stopped by to say hello. He asked us why we did not tell that we are coming, because they arrange a special welcome for nice travel stories. They were really impressed by the bikes. Suddenly everybody started to ask questions about our trip and we took several pictures with the harbor guys “that would end up in every paper” according to the manager. If that was true we don’t know, because he also said he could arrange a boat for us from Dubai to India, but we never got an answer on our emails.
We headed for direction center. Sara had to fix her bags on the side of the road. Normally, in Iran you become already a bit nervous when you have to stop next to the road because you know in three seconds there will be three different cars next to you. One filming you, the other making pictures asking in Persian if you have Instagram and the third trying to convince you to go to their home. But here, every car just drove by, they did not even look at us, they did not horn. We had arrived in paradise: we were “normal.”
So we biked our way to the center, got some cash and found a cheap, extremely delicious Indian restaurant. For 6 euro (still a bit above our budget) we had an amazing meal for two. We found an electronic shop with a friendly guy from the Philippines. We could use the Internet, there were seats in the shop and on occasion we were offered water and tea. And again, it was a relieve that people behaved like we were from the same planet.
This is what you immediately notice in Dubai: service is everywhere. And not only service, the service comes with a smile that looks like the persons mean it. It sounds a bit scary, but actually it feels great. You feel just everywhere welcome.
But as always the service has a price. We noticed that the people on the streets are mostly Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and people from the Philippines. They make up to 85 percent of the Emirates population. Only around 10 percent of the people are the local Emirates. The immigrants often work long hours and there is a big amount that is being exploited by working too much, too long, or doing too heavy, dangerous tasks for often a little amount of money. They often can’t stand up for their rights, because they are threatened or afraid to be send back to their countries. However the Emirates is still one of the most popular countries among immigrants, because the average salary is higher than in many other countries.
We contacted our Couchsurfing host and after 1,5 hours he picked us up.
Our host was called Andrew, he was from Syria and moved 1 year before the war in 2010 to Dubai. He works in a company that sales security camera’s and equipment. He drove us a bit around the city and arrived at the financial center. There is a pretty impressive street with skyscrapers on your left and right hand, giving you the feeling you have arrived in New York City. We went to the famous Dubai Mall. Just in the middle of the mall we met the Estonian guy fro the boat again. He was a bit lost, waiting for his host, so he joined us.
In the mall there is a huge aquarium filled with exotic (big) fishes and there is the water fountain. The top attraction in Dubai. At six every fifteen minutes there is a spectacular water fountain show, every time the water “dances” on a different song. Many people gather around the water at this time. We were waiting there for one and a half hour until a security guy told us there was a technical problem. There was no show tonight. We did not mind, because it was a joy to see so many different international people in one space. After three months Iran, especially in the south it was great to see this variety. Girls in shiny short dresses, people with uncovered shoulders and neck walking next to a woman in a burka, guys in traditional dresses versus guys in short pants and flip flops.
However we slowly got tired and went to Andrew’s house which was 25 kilometers from the center near the Chinese Dragon Mall. As in every European capital, also accommodation in Dubai is a bitch. Most of the affordable accommodations are far out of the city. But first Andrew took us to his favorite Syrian restaurant where he treated us with some typical Syrian food. For us it was a fancy meal with hummus, salads, grilled meat, fries and warm bread.
Andrew has a small room that he shared with us for four nights. He worked during the day and was extremely busy, because the moment there is a problem he has to be present. But we got the key and could leave the house whenever we wanted. We used the time at Andrew’s to use the internet. Also we really enjoyed his large tv that had lots of movies on it, so in the evening we made some movie nights. We visited the Chinese dragon mall where they sell all kinds of crap and Sara bought a smartphone of a weird Chinese brand which she regretted the moment she came home. However it still works and for music and Whatsapp its okay. So no complaints.
It was also not too inviting to cycle the 25 kilometers to the city, because the roads are busy 5 line highways. Cars are of course not used to bikes and sometimes you have to cross three lines in order to stay on the highway, which can be a nerve wrecking tasks with all the Hummers, Porsche and Rolls Royce’s that want to check out their maximum speed limits.
After the third night at Andrew’s we had contacted two other couchsurfer host’s. We met Maz at his work and spend the evening with him. Maz is 35, his parents are from Pakistan and he was born in Dubai. However he has no passport of the Emirates. He could tell us a lot about life in the Emirates and also how it is for him as a Pakistani to be born and raised their but to have no rights.
Maz worked from the moment he could and at his first job he had made 21 hours a day. He did this for a year, until he got insomnia and decided to stop. He told us that in Dubai you have a job, nice clothes, good food, and a fancy car. But there it stops. He told us more about Indian and Pakistani history. It was a joy to talk to him. In the end he drove us to the meeting point where we would meet a third couchsurfer host from Malaysia. To find out that we could not sleep at his place, because his landlord did not agree.
It is very hard to camp in Dubai. At the beaches there are signs that camping is forbidden and there will be legal consequences if you do not follow the rules. We knew the story of Alex, one of the Rainbow people that got arrested for playing music on the streets and was in jail for three weeks. And because Andrew had assured us that we could always come back to his place if we had problems we called him again if we could stay one more night. It was also pretty convenient, because Maz was living almost next door to him, so we could drive with him. So there we were again, at Andrew’s place!
Next day we headed on our bikes back to Dubai center, because actually we had not seen a lot. We ate again at our favorite Indian restaurant, with three other delicious little meals. We went to the beach, to see if we still could camp somewhere. However we could find no hidden spaces.
Than we just started to ask random people in their houses, if we could camp inside their fences. But people acted a bit shocked when they saw us and they were not very inviting. Also they did not had gardens but parking lots in their fences. So we ran out of options.
We could cycle to Sharjah, 25 kilometers further where there was a beach with camping sign on the map. But it was dark, we were tired and we wanted to see a bit more of Dubai the next day. We got a tip from a woman to ask at the mosques or churches. The church was too far, but everywhere there were mosques. The first mosque did not allow it, but the imam of the second mosque let the maintenance guy decide for himself. He was a good guy and let us camp joehoe! We could even camp on a very hidden spot in the back area, with a little kitchen next to us and lots of privacy. In the end we discovered it was: an Iranian mosque! Hahaha, the Iranian hospitality has no borders. They even brought us food, so Iranian. We climbed out of the fence at night and had a little city walk.
After visiting the financial center the next morning with its huge skyscrapers and interviewing people for Sara’s article, we left Dubai and headed for the next Emirates: Sharjah. Sharjah is known as the cultural Emirate and also the Emirate that is the most strict. For example it’s strictly forbidden to drink alcohol here. We were heading the beach area, because there is an area where you can officially camp. After 30 kilometers arriving in this big city with also many skyscrapers, we arrived at the beach in the late afternoon. It is known that the UAE get’s its sand for its beaches abroad, Algeria for example. And when you arrive at Sharjah beach you can imagine they got it from the Maldives. It is sand so white and soft, it’s horribly wonderful and artificial at the same time.
We set up our tent at a really nice spot next to a bungalow where they sell diving courses. It was nice to end up at an area where you can just chill with your tent without the feeling you are doing anything illegal. There were two brother from the Philippines working at the coffee bungalow and they manage the recreational water attractions for tourists. They where super chilled out dudes.
Next day we were welcomed by a Lebanese guy, Amin. It looked like he was the manager of the beach, but actually he just was there every day. He lived in Germany and spoke German. He was also a very loud figure that constantly wanted to have talks and thinks the world evolves about money and reproducing your genes. At the same time you had the feeling he was doing some dodgy practices on the side. But he was nice and of course loud to us. He introduced us to Gert and Jutta who were camping just a bit further on the beach. They are two Germans that travel the world with a huge camper truck.
The first night we had a nice meal together and Gert even offered us our first beer!! After 3,5 months without any proper beer in Iran, we got one! However it was a tequila kind of beer, so still not the “real deal.” They introduced us to a horrible Arabic desert: Lebanese bread with cream cheese, a twix in the middle, decorate it with chips on top and add some tobasco. If you might not have eaten for a week, it can be nice.
In the end it was a bit of a mistake to camp next to them, first because the other spot was more cosy and second Gert and Jutta where something special with some tunnel vision thoughts. Good people, but just not the most fun to camp next to.
We camped four days on the beach. Chris had shoulder pain, Gert was a physiotherapist and showed Chris some walking exercises. There was Internet next to the aquarium around the corner, where we could arrange our Internet stuff, we had time to make necklaces and the best part was that every morning we got a visit from Sylvester, one of the brother from the Philippines. He needed volunteers to test the water attractions to trigger the interest of the other tourists on the beach. So every morning we woke up on a different water attraction. We were tied behind a jet ski that cruised the water with full power and we were hanging behind it on a comfortable couch. Which was really fun, because there is almost no chance you can end up in the water. Second time we were on the flying fish, which was awesome because you fly in the air. But then we got misled by the “innocent” banana.
We had never been on a banana before, but our expectation were low. You always see them in the water and it looks goofy and grandma’s can even join. Well, it’s not. It’s not fun and you should definitely not invite your grandma on a banana. The banana is awful. There is no chance you can stay seated and so with every turn you are being launched into the water with often high speed. We volunteered with three other boys and the first turn So first time we were launched into the water. Everybody landed pretty hard on the water, on their face, head, shoulders. Sara on her head and she was a bit afraid to get back on it. However the next two times Sylvester, our driver, was as a bit more gentle. The last attractions was the Woow. We volunteered with a Russian girl, that could not stop screaming. Sara probably experienced the exact same feelings as her, but was more focusing on how to stay on this goddamn thing and not to fly into the water. In the end it was really fun, because we moved from the outside of the thing inside which was way more easy.
Chris really wanted to get on the waterboard, but we impulsively decided to leave one afternoon. When we said goodbye to Sylvester, he offered Chris to quickly test it. What a guy. So Chris his dream came true and he was flying in the air on waterpower. Just the moment he got the hang of it, Sylvester returned back to the beach. Of course.
The German family
One of the days we went with Gert and Jutta to a German family that we had seen for a second or two on the beach. They had invited us to come and have dinner with them. That was an amazing night. The German family was living in Ajman, the third emirate. They had a cosy garden where the table was decorated with tons of great food. like kartoffelnsalad. Claus grilled the meat and they had endless beer and wines. Proper beer this time: Singha! Two German families where living in the same house: Claus and his wife Suzie and Daniel and Jordis with their two kids Julian and Tine. It was a night with lots of drinks, food and great company we ended up at the fire with liqueur and whiskey. This family invited us to stay with them, the moment we continued cycling. Because the atmosphere was so great with these guys, we did not think twice about it and after five days camping on the beach in Sharjah, we left for Ajman!
We arrived in the evening at the German family. We got our own room in the house and we had a great dinner together. For ten days we stayed with this great family. They had two guitars, so we finally had the chance to practice and play again. During the week Claus and Daniel were working as fireman. Jordis and Suzie were working on the German school where also the kids went. During these days we enjoyed the warm showers, the Internet and the luxury of a great house and a fridge filled with great food. In the afternoon everybody came home and we did some board games, movie nights and we always had dinner together. Chris had an occasional water fight with the kids and some computer game exchange with Julian. It was a luxury that every night we joined for dinner, also because they always prepared amazing food. Suzie and Claus had had a restaurant for decades when they were younger and Suzie had years of experience in the kitchen. She makes delicious soups! Once Chris and I prepared pizza for the whole family which was a success.
Only there was nothing really to do outside of the house. Ajman is a district with a lot of houses and little shops. So we were a bit stuck inside the house. There is only a surprisingly entertaining museum built in the old fort.
In the weekends we went with them to Dubai. They showed us the old town of Dubai, which was great to see, because its the only cosy place in Dubai. Very touristy, but it has a nice vibe. And the boat is very cheap. In the evening we went to the water fountain, because we had missed this free attraction due to technological problems. This time the fountain was back and running. It was very entertaining to see this light water show. We did some shopping in the mall, took a little free train where you have a nice view on the Burj Khalifa. In the weekends everywhere you see Indians playing cricket on big fields. It’s very entertaining to see these hugh groups of men coming together playing their favorite game.
But the highlight was a presentation at the German school. Jordis had come up with the idea and in three days we were standing in front of two classes to tell about our travels. To see how this went, check: Presentation at the German School.
After the presentation we were invited by one of the crazy Hungarian/German teachers Tamas and his favorite student Iman to do some horse riding. We picked up Tamas his adorable two kids Sophie and Julia. Two outspoken busy chatty little kids that told us all about the horses if they were nice or not and they showed us the animal farm. Later that day we went for a 15 kilometer horse ride in the sand dunes. At a certain point we saw the skyline of Dubai far away. Chris had a wild horse Grey which often just wanted to do his own thing, but Chris managed really good. Sara had a really chilled out horse which was good, because after four years of horse riding in her childhood it’s still not her favorite thing.
We had to make plans how to come to India. We want to avoid flying and we knew that traditional wooden doughs go from Dubai and Sharjah to India. So we cycled our way to Sharjah to check out our options. We arrived at the harbour with the most beautiful boats. Lots of Indian and Bangladesh people working there. A lot of boats went to Yemen, and a few to India. When we found an English speaking captain that told us we could not come with them because we need a “sea passport” we can only come as workers because they are not allowed to take passengers. We already expect this somehow, but it was good to check our options. The container ships have also a strict policy, so we finally developed the idea to fly.
The last days the Germand had friends over for dinner. Daniel made his delicious lasagna and our last night we had some old time gourmet with their two great friends from Bayern. We enjoyed staying at their place so much. Chris really felt at home with the German family and Sara could practice her German once in a while. We had ten days of recovering of being on the road and be welcomed in a western family for a change.
After ten days we hit the road. The other emirate Umm al-Quwain, is a bit of a strange emirate. A lot of sand and some occasional buildings. We made our way to Musandam, a northern enclave of Oman. In two days we arrived there, sooner tan expected because Mohammed offered us a hike to the border. In the evening we arrived at the border and Chris was first doubting because we had to pay 50 euro’s for a monthly visa. But then we discovered we had to pay this anyway when we went to Muscat, so we payed 13 euro to get out of the Emirates and 50 for Oman and joehoe! Oman we are coming!