by Ollie, 16/05/2014

So far I've only spent about 2 weeks in Ireland this year. Work and holidays have kept me busy in 2014, traveling across the globe. My last destination before I came back to County Clare again: Dubai.

Try as you might, you'll be hard pressed to find a more cosmopolitan place than Dubai. Though quintessential Arabic, you will find every possible nationality living there. Only the Inuit found it a tad warm and decided to stay where they are.
Just a sample of what downtown Dubai looks like
This trading and business hub at the center between East and West has it all; a gold- and spice souq, a 7-star hotel, palm shaped islands, the biggest shopping mall in the world, the tallest building in the world, the highest concentration of very expensive cars in the world and egos to match it all.  To name but a few things.

Dubai was no holiday destination for me. I sailed the tug there from Qatar, towing 2 barges. After arriving, the tug was docked in a corner of what is still the unfinished Palm Deira.
Palm Deira is another one of those megalomaniac projects which were rife in Dubai at the hight of the economic boom. It was supposed to become the third palm island which was going to put the other 2 palm islands to shame. The company I work for was building it. 
Money was flowing out of wells in the desert it seemed in those days, but it dried up quickly with the outbreak of the economic crash and the project was scuppered. 
A large portion of the island was already built, but it is not yet recognizable as a palm. For now it serves as a harbour for the company's ships that are based in the Persian Gulf.

That's where the tug remained for the period I was on board, our work consisting only of maintenance. This meant, in theory at least, that I was able to go ashore in the evenings.
I didn't go ashore very often to be honest, but when I did I saw some very interesting stuff.
The first time ashore was to go for a medical test for the visa.
That's right, only very healthy people are allowed to live in Dubai. Some blood was taken from me and also an X-ray of the chest. People who are applying for visa are being tested for HIV, hepatitis and TBC. Testing positive for any of those will result in immediate deportation. It seems that I am as healthy as a horse though, because rather than deportation I received a visa that allows me to stay in Dubai for 3 years.

Fortunately I went ashore for some more leisurely activities as well. Now, if you like shopping than Dubai is the place to be. There are about as many shopping malls as there are mosques in the city, and the biggest of them all is the Dubai Mall.
The diplodocus at Dubai Mall
When you enter Dubai Mall it feels more like stepping into a natural history museum rather than a shopping center. In the atrium at the entrance an actual skeleton of a diplodocus is on display. Walk on a little bit and you find yourself in a tunnel which runs through a 3-storey aquarium with rays, sharks and all sorts of fish. Then there is also a massive waterfall and if things are getting a bit too hot you can cool down at the ice-rink. Indeed, you can go ice skating in the desert.
Oh and there are about 1200 shops and 160 places to eat in the place as well.

That's the new, swanky Dubai, very interesting. But I was also interested in the old Dubai, so I got a taxi to take me to the souqs around the Creek. The souqs are more like the markets of old. There is a gold souq, a spice souq and more general souqs where you can basically buy anything you can think off.
Salesmen and hawkers alike gather around you like flies on sh_te, trying to drag you into their shop or offering you fake Rolexes and Breitlings.  You can't buy anything here without some haggling over the price. That is simply expected.
The souqs are busy and raucous. The alley ways are very narrow and the shops are in older,  more traditional buildings. It's very hot to walk around, no air conditioning there, but it's great fun! 

One of the souqs

After seeing the souqs I took a 1 Dirham boat ride across the Creek and visited the Dubai Museum. The museum is in an old fortress and on display is the traditional life style of the Arab tribes around Dubai. There are also some very interesting aerial photographs on display, which show Dubai the way it was in the 1950s; a tiny fishing / trading village on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Quite a contrast with modern day Dubai.

The day was ended with the sampling of some of the nightlife in Dubai and after a few pints and several taxi rides, I was back on board, slightly drunk but very happy.

I don't think Dubai would be very high on my list as a tourist destination to be honest, mainly due to a lack of decent waves, but it is a very interesting place and I'm glad I got to see it nonetheless. 

This photo was taken on a moonlit night while sailing from Qatar to Dubai
The aquarium in Dubai Mall
All is gold that glitters. The gold souq
Doing the proper tourist thing
Showing off the goods
Merchandise on the wharves at the Creek waiting to be loaded onto dhows, a traditional type of boat 
Dhows on the Creek
Dhows on the Creek, with Bur Dubai in the background. Bur Dubai is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Dubai
The skipper of the water taxi, a ride across the Creek only costs 1 Dirham.
Traditional building and minaret in Bur Dubai
The skyline of downtown Dubai, with Burj Khalifa which is presently the tallest building in the world.

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