All Around the World: Dubai

Thursday 27th March
I had managed to get about 4 hours sleep before there were to many distractions that I couldn’t ignore any further. This included the person behind coughing and a baby a couple of rows back crying and screaming. It was to late to watch a movie so I watched the final two episodes of ‘The Wrong Man’ which I’d missed when I’d left at the end of October. I tried to rest my eyes but first they came round to give breakfast and then to take the blanket I was using to cover my face.

We landed at around 6am and I made my way to the visa and tour booking desk. The guy at the desk confirmed there was space and because I wasn’t staying at a hotel the solution was for me to be picked from the nearby Premier Inn. It looked nice outside and I was also able to book a morning session to visit Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world). I felt quite apprehensive as I passed the baggage claim and it felt like something was missing when I left the airport with only a small rucksack.

Eventually I made it out of the airport towards the Dubai metro and I was thankful that the machine made it clear how to buy tickets. The notifications on the train were in Arabic and English so I had no problem getting off at the correct station though I had regretted not sitting on the other side as I would have seen the Burj Khalifa. After arriving it was unclear which way I needed to go but eventually I opted to follow signs to the Dubai Shopping Mall though I was surprised that all the signs for Burj Khalifa had disappeared.

The walkway was lot longer than I had anticipated and I wasn’t even sure if I was heading in the right direction. I looked out of the windows on both sides but I literally couldn’t see, and therefore felt lost trying to find the tallest building in the world. I finally entered the shopping mall and I have to admit even I was impressed and slightly overawed by its size. I finally saw some signs to the Burj Khalifa and made my way.

I was in no hurry to rush round the displays so I took my time and was surprised to discover that the Burj Khalifa was nearly double the size of the Twin Petrona Towers I had visited in Kuala Lumpur. I made my way to the lift and travelled to floor 124 which was 1,483 feet from the ground. The view was obviously impressive but there was quite a bit of haze in the distance which meant I couldn’t for example make out the Palm Islands.

There is only a certain amount of time you can spend looking down on a city so I soon found myself feeling ready to go back down. Before I did one of the telescopes became free and it was amazing to see the contrast between the city now and in the relatively recent past when it had been mostly desert. Once I was finished I decided to make my way to the Waterfall inside the mall before going outside to the Waterfront where I was able to appreciate just how big the Burj Khalifa is.

My colleague Sue had given me a suggestion for a vegetarian Indian restaurant called Rangoli where for very little money I could “eat like a King”. After arriving at the nearest station I started walking to the restaurant however as soon as I turned the final corner the local shop keepers were trying to tempt me in to their shop to buy t-shirts. I let out a sigh inside. I’ve been in the situation many times before and have learnt to ignore what I’m being asked but I really feel it is mentally tiring when people stereotype and assume I’m a walking £ or $ sign. It’s very frustrating when you know where you want to go and people keep trying to block your path but luckily I could see my destination so I persevered.

It wasn’t quite lunch so I ordered a mango lassi and waited for the kitchen to open. Eventually I made my way upstairs and ordered the Gujarati Thali. The plate given to me was big and had a few small metal dishes on it but I feared portion sizes looked on the small side. How wrong I was. Soon various waiters were bringing out Chapatis, Papads, and various curries and a dhal to fill up the bowls and when ever one was finished more food appeared. I loved it, though I wasn’t a big fan of the complimentary buttermilk drink.

Full and happy I made my way back to the train station and boarded the train. I had been careful not to board ‘Gold’ class but I made another tourist error. I accidentally boarded the “women and children only” carriage however luckily I was able to quickly move down the train when the mistake was pointed out to me. I arrived back at the airport to get a free shuttle to the Premier Inn but as the carpark was predictably very busy I couldn’t see where it was.

I had been told a taxi would cost about 25AED which I was prepared to pay to avoid the hassle of waiting for the shuttle. Sadly I had the floating £ and $ sign above my head and when I enquired I was told over 50AED so I said no thanks. There was still no sign of the shuttle so I went back in to the airport to the taxi booking desk and again the girl confirmed the price. I was then approached by a taxi driver which is always dodgy and he quoted 80AED. Declining that offer I went back outside and thankfully this time I saw the shuttle bus to the Premier Inn and I waited there for the pick up.

We drove out of Dubai and as we entered the desert I was over come by tiredness and dozed off. Our first stop was a garage to fill up and as I chatted to a guy from New Zealand I hit my head on an overhanging sign which at least woke me up. The owners were trying to get me to wear a traditional head scarf and I wasn’t interested at all. I really wanted a fizzy drink to wake me up but sadly the drinks didn’t have prices on so whilst I knew I was being conned I couldn’t work out the exchange rate quick enough.

Our first proper stop was to see a Peregrine Falcon display. The guide provided quite a bit of information and told us that he had a detonator to blow up the bird if it escaped because it was tame and wouldn’t survive in the wild. We were all quite horrified but he then assured us he was only joking. The Peregrine falcon is the fastest bird and it was impressive to see it in action as it was so fast it wasn’t possible to get a clear picture of it swooping down.

After leaving the display we started our journey to our desert camp but to get there had to cross the sand dunes. I had done something similar in Wadi Rum in Jordan but this seemed even more extreme and it was great fun. The constant up/down and side to side movement meant it was like a never ending roller coaster so I was slightly relieved when it was all over as I think by that point we were all feeling slightly dizzy.

We arrived at a lookout to see the sunset and the lighting really was quite impressive the sun looking like a small orange ball in the sky. It gradually sunk lower before disappearing beneath the sand dunes and with that my last sunset of the holiday was over. I’d travelled across 8 countries but my last day was now over. The next time I’d see the sunset would be back home and that would be assuming it wasn’t blocked by cloud.

The desert camp wasn’t really what I expected because it was much busier than I had anticipated but it still looked nice and had a good atmosphere. I started off by having a short camel ride which was really just around a small area of the camp before getting a henna tattoo. This had seemed a good idea at the time but almost immediately before it had tried I knocked it therefore destroying one of the patterns but still causing it to leave a faint mark / stain on my arm.

The dinner was huge but because I had a flight I didn’t want to over indulge to much however I made sure I had enough to keep me going until I had to board the flight. As we ate the main course the hosts provided a belly dancer for some entertainment which was particularly popular with some teenage boys on the table behind. After the belly dancer had finished the lights in the camp were turned off so we could see the stars. I have to admit whilst it was a clear evening it wasn’t as spectacular as what I had seen in New Zealand or Australia but I still enjoyed it as I knew once I was back in London I’d be lucky to see anything at all.

The Journey back was uneventful and The driver kindly took me direct to the airport where I checked back in and waited at the gate trying my best to stay awake.

Friday 28th March
I boarded my last flight of this incredible journey and saw the plane was a Airbus A380 which I knew had been plagued by engine failures in 2010. After taking my seat I found a movie called ‘The Sapphires’ which had been recommended to me by Victoria over a year ago. The movie had been about 20 minutes in when the safety demonstration began and I must have fallen asleep during the latter because when I woke the movie was playing and we were in the air. Almost immediately upon waking up there was an in flight announcement from the Captain. “Some of you may have wondered why we are only 6,000 feet in the air, unfortunately we appear to have developed a minor engine fault”. I hadn’t noticed and this was a somewhat unpleasant surprise.

I had no idea how serious it was but the captain sounded very calm and very professional however I know that if some Australian’s tell you about the danger of sharks, snakes and spiders they’ll always play down the risk. When they tried to fix the fault but ultimately couldn’t identify it he remained calm, almost jolly as he told us ‘hey folks we’ve tried to fix the minor problem but it appears to be a bit more serious than we first thought’. Whilst I remained calm the thought did briefly cross my mind that this may have been Australian code for there is a snake and it has bitten us.

I was in the middle seat and as i couldn’t see anything carried on watching the film. It almost sounds silly in hindsight but I thought if the worst does happen I’d at least want to know how the film ended. I guess the film was a distraction, whilst it was playing I was in a bubble where the reality of the situation couldn’t get to me. I just assumed we would be fine which is probably a bit naive especially as we had to dump fuel in to the sea to lighten our load as we were initially to heavy to return to Dubai. We were also escorted on to the runway by fire trucks but weren’t told to get in the brace position and the captain did try to assure us it was a formality ‘for the situation we were in’. I guess I’ll never know what situation that was.

The landing was smooth but the captain claimed an over enthusiastic fire engine had parked to close to us meaning we couldn’t taxi. I naïvely thought we’d be allowed off the plane fairly quickly. We weren’t. The airport staff wanted us to remain on the plane whilst the engineer assessed the situation. Personally I wasn’t overly keen on staying on the same plane though I knew the engineer with his neck on the line would have only given a go ahead to fly if he was sure. He couldn’t and the flight was officially cancelled. It was now about 3.00am but still we had to wait on the plane.

There was an interesting looking documentary on formula one racing so I decided to start watching that not really expecting to see the end. Gradually people were asked to leave, starting obviously with business and first class. Sadly I was near the back so I was amongst the last group and by then I had seen the whole documentary which was over 1 hour and 45 minutes. I have to admit the organisation was atrocious. I didn’t mind being amongst the last group because I had no dependants but I just couldn’t believe those with children, especially babies hadn’t been given any type of priority. I was also surprised that where people had a connecting flight from London there wasn’t an effort to fly them direct to their final destination.

Once I was off the plane which was after 6.00am I got chatting to a lad from New Zealand who was about to start a new life in London. We had been told we would all be treated as individuals and those at the front of the queue were certainly taking their time. By the time it got to us the approach had changed and no questions were being answered and all they were doing were handing out meal vouchers. I jokingly asked if I would be home by Sunday and I received the response ‘most probably’. Not most definitely, not even most likely. By now it had gone 7.00am so I’d officially been awake for more than 24 hours.

The duty manager kindly let me use her mobile phone as my phone battery had died after I had updated dad but I wanted to speak on the phone to confirm I was ok and to make sure he wasn’t going to Heathrow. I felt hungry but I also felt very tired and just couldn’t bare the thought of going upstairs so I stayed by the desks saving my meal voucher for when it was less busy. After about two hours of waiting someone at the desk told me to take a seat in the lounge and told me that there was a flight from Melbourne and a flight from Sydney both arriving from Heathrow. They still needed final authorisation but the intention was to combine the flights (effectively cancelling one) and for one of the planes to return straight back to the UK.

At 09.35 we finally received confirmation that we would be departing at 15.00 and due to arrive in Heathrow at 18.30, 13 hours late but at least not 24 hours or more which is what I’d feared. After waiting around downstairs a bit more I saw the lad from earlier and together we went up to the business class lounge. Qantas/Emirates had failed to find us a hotel due to everywhere being booked by the time it had got to our section of the plane. We were both tired and needed somewhere to sit down but we didn’t really expect to be let in however it seemed other passengers in our situation had thought of the same idea.

I have to admit I didn’t really explore the lounge as I was to tired. They had free computers with WiFi and a comfortable chair I fell asleep in, that was all that mattered. I woke with a start and noticed it was 12.30 so I’d probably been asleep about an hour if not more. The food option choices available with the voucher weren’t great but I opted for what I will ensure will be my last McDonald’s for a considerable amount of time.

I had two vouchers which entitled me to two drinks and two burgers of any type. I didn’t really want two of each so asked if I could swap 1 burger and coke for a portion of fries instead. Initially I was told no but then the manager agreed and after exchanging what was left of my money I made my way to the gate. There I started chatting to someone from Australia who was about to do the huge 49 day Topdeck tour round Europe. He was a bit nervous as it was his first big trip abroad and I told him everyone would feel the same and that things could only get better after the start he was having.

Soon we also got chatting to a guy from Devon and it gradually became obvious the flight was going to be delayed further and this was eventually blamed on catering issues. We finally boarded at the time we should have departed and once I was seated I put on my next choice of film “The Delivery Man”.

Rather than trying to sleep I was now trying to stay awake as long as possible and watched ‘The Butler’ which I thought was quite thought provoking. Almost as soon as the film ended I crashed out and woke up about 4 hours later because the guy next to me had jabbed me in the side as he wanted to escape. The flight had fortunately been uneventful and once I made it through security I was officially back in London after a fantastic few months.

Unfortunately the drama wasn’t quite over. We’d all had a bad feeling that changing planes would result in lost luggage and whilst my sleeping bag came out almost straight away there was no sign of my backpack. It was a bit concerning because they would have been added together and as the crowd slowly emptied I was one of a handful of people left. The backpack did eventually emerge but the detachable rucksack was no longer attached and didn’t come out.

There was quite a crowd of people from my flight at the lost luggage counter and when I finally got to the front I was redirected to the back of another queue that dealt specifically with damaged baggage. The guy who served me was helpful and filled out a report however it was understandable that he could give no indication as to whether Qantas would accept responsibility.

I finally made my way through customs and saw dad and Jenny waiting for me. It was nice to see some friendly faces after the journey back I had endured. It all felt a bit surreal especially as I’d only seen the the week before but my journey was now over.