Sunday, March 27, 2016

Mid-East: Blog # 11 - The End Of Our Trip

March 15, 2016

There is a waterway or canal in Dubai. It's called - "The Creek." 
Souks are located on either side of the "Creek" area.

As In Other Parts Of The City, Construction Is Occurring On Both Sides Of "The Creek"

This souk area is old, historical and (most likely) it eventually will be torn down and replaced with high rise buildings
Not Too Many Locals Or Tourists

There is the traditional "Spice" Souk on one side. 

Nearby is the colorful "Textile" souk.

Amazing Designs, Patterns And Colors

If you have time, why not make your own outfit...?

Table Runner Or Dress?

Colorful gift items are also available to purchase

In order to get from one side of "The Creek" to another, it's necessary to cross over via an old, water taxi or an equally old wooden party boat.

 Getting Ready To Cross "The Creek"

Traditional Water Taxi

Selfie Time

Once across, there was another souk area. 

Be Careful!  Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre Might Be In This Alleyway!
*                    *                    *

There was something quite unique and special on the other side of "The Creek."

It's The "Gold Souk."
Need Gold?

It was fascinating to walk through the gold souk. We Only looked at all the gold jewelry and ornaments. It was a bit overwhelming.

Need a gold tennis shoe?

How About A Gold Baseball?

Something Cleopatra Might Have Worn

We were told (besides the negotiation part) that prices are "reasonable" and based on the cost/ounce. Who knows!?!?!

Okay..We'll Take The Four Of Them...

Window Shopping?!?!

How about a doorman dressed in gold?

If you can't find what you want in gold...or don't like gold

  You Can Always Buy A Diamond!
Is This Size Big Enough?

Equally interesting was the way packages and goods were delivered to this area.

Yes, there were delivery trucks. 

But, because of the narrow roads and the "urgency" for some entities to get a delivery, it looked like Chinese "Coolie" labor was used.

What Could Be In The Packages?

Cart Had A Flat Tire!?!?

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There was never a moment to rest. Following the souk exploration, after quick lunch and a chance to change clothes, we headed off to the desert for a late afternoon off roading (4X4 Land Rover) experience and other interesting happenings.

We had special permission to enter the Sheik's private desert retreat. His compound incorporates a large desert space (at least 100 sq miles?), a fancy hotel and spa and a nomad/Bedouin-type camp where we could try some of the local food along with enjoying local entertainment and a shisha pipe. For fun, women can get a henna tattoo.

When In Rome,,,Whoops, We Meant The Dubai Desert...

Vintage Land Rover Acquired From South Africa and Rebuilt For Off Roading 

Notice What's In Jerry's Hand. 

Although nothing is to be removed from this area, Jerry got permission to take home dried branches of a dead bush. He's going to make some sort of art project with the branches when we get home.

Reflecting - Taking It All In!

There Is "Nothing" Here

Except Scrub Brush 

And Oryx 

 Everything is left untouched

The Oryx was actually thought to be a unicorn

Riding across the desert sand dunes - it was quiet, no one was around - a great experience

It had just rained a few hours prior. Rather than a fine powder, the desert sand was like clay powder - thick and still damp. We had a strange feeling walking on this sand.
 Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence (Jerry) of Arabia

 Falcon Demonstration: Bird In Flight Goes After Food

 When Not In Use, All Of Our Vehicles Have Always Been Lined Up - Much Like A Military Convoy

 We Enter Camp - Hands Washed With Rose Water
Desert Temperature Starting To Drop

Welcome Drink: Arabia Coffee With Herbs And Honey 
Dates Also Offered

How About An Evening Camel Ride ?

Anyone for some entertainment?

Or, how about "a quick smoke" before we head back to Dubai?

 What? We Have To Leave This Place?

 *               *               *               *

The fabulous and comprehensive tour ended.  

Memories are many - We met some fine people.

Getting Ready For a "Religious Experience"

Fabulous Ambiance - What Could Be better?

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We stayed an extra day at the Palace Hotel. There are not enough words (nor time) to describe the ambiance, the service, the food and the location of this hotel property.

This was a 6-star hotel, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari and Lamborghini all rolled into one. 

Top Of The World!

It was hard to leave. 

However, we planned our "Dubai time" to end the trip with a few extra days at another hotel location. We wanted to have a different Dubai experience such as at a beach area. Every day was "a push" so why not relax a bit before we headed home to --  the grind.

These last few days would be at the Farimont Palm. The hotel is located on "The Palm" - a beautiful man-made island with a several mile long pristine beach. The ocean water was almost too warm. While standing on the beach, we could look out at the skyline of new high rises and mega-buck yachts as well as the Sheiks Palace - a huge, multi-storied complex that is, perhaps, a 1/2 mile long.

Our hotel Location Is Part Of The Palm Tree "Stem."
The Buildings Behind Are Actually One of The Palm Tree Fronds

Contrary To The Palace Hotel (90% Of The Guests Are Arabs/Moslems), 90% Of The Fairmont Guests Are Europeans Of Which Half Were Germans And The Other Half British - A Totally "Different Feel."

Beach Food And drink Delivery Vehicle

Hanging Out - Literally And Figuratively

Umbrellas Competing With The Buildings

Sunset From Our Hotel Room Balcony

The Palm Buildings at Night

Hotel Policy: All Luggage Must Have Privacy

*                   *                  *
Time to go home...

Dubai Airport Departure Area

At Least We Can Read  Letters And numbers
QR 1021 Is Our Flight To Doja, Qatar

The Qatar Airways lounge has an interesting way to position knives, forks and spoons.

Modern Bus Takes Us To Our Plane

Leaving Dubai: Man-Made Island Below

Dubai From Our Plane: Looks Like New York Or Chicago

Approaching Outskirts Of Doja, Qatar: Notice That There Is No Noticeable Plant life/Vegetation

Nothing But Desert Between Doha Airport Runway And City Center

*                   *                    *
Transferring from the Doha-Dubai plane was no fun!

By the time we disembarked our plane, we had (what we thought was enough time) -  45 minutes to get to our nearby Dubai gate. This was not to be the case.

Literally, as soon as we got off the plane, it was necessary to go through security again. Obviously, there was a large group of people that had to be re-screened. Then, also at the Doha-LAX gate, we had to go (again) through security.

Where it wasn't necessary before, this time all of the passengers going to Los Angeles had to remove their shoes. There was a lot of grumbling passengers because, like for us, for some reason there was not enough time between the connecting flights. 

Many passengers were upset about the unexpected shoe removal enforcement -- possibly, there would not be enough time to get onto the LAX plane. Airport police were asked to help out and reinforce the shoe removal policy. 

It got worse!

Passengers with passports and boarding passes in hand were directed to place the documents into a tray. The documents had to go through the x-ray machine.

Trays going through the x-ray machine -  filled with all sorts of different items,  were now falling off the conveyor belt and onto the floor. Passports, boarding passes, purses, etc. were ups for the grabs.

Then, Qatar's Airport security x-ray machine identified a "solid mass" in Jerry's backpack. He happened to be carrying (in his backpack)  12 pounds of shells.

At this point, the passenger screening process actually came almost to a halt when the security person pulled the bag off the conveyor and began questioning Jerry. The Q&A went as follows:

Security: What's inside?
Jerry: Shells
Security: What are shells?
Jerry: Sea shells.
Security: Sea shells?
Jerry: Yes, from the ocean. I got them on a Dubai beach.

The security person (very) carefully opened up the backpack and cautiously put a hand inside.

His hand struck a variety of hard, some sharp and a little wet, odd shaped - things.

After confirming that what was inside the backpack was indeed seashells, the security person snarled...

"Where you from?"

Jerry: From The USA...America!

The security person motioned with his head for Jerry to pick up the backpack.

As Jerry moved to the end of the security belt to get his wheelie, the security person reached for a paper towel, wiped the "wetness" from his hand and then gave Jerry a nasty "look."

*                    *                    *
With minutes to spare, we made it...

Let's Go To Los Angeles!

*                    *                    *

Close To LAX's Final Approach:The Malibu Pier Is Below Us

*                  *                 *  
"Reality" has set in. We're home.  Our time in Qatar, Oman and the UAE was intense. We saw. We tasted. We learned a lot.

Our pictures are nice. They tell a story. However, it may take some time to get our arms around the "institutional (Political, Social, Cultural, Religious, etc.) experience" and try to figure out what is real, what is a figment of our imagination and, of course, what is false.

This geo-political area is a land of contrasts, inconsistencies and "smoke and mirrors." Without sitting in government meetings, not privy to communiques between countries and not having opportunities to live with "the people," it's difficult to judge...

In terms of comparing and contrasting, below are some of the issues that we faced, concepts and information that we tried to contemplate while still wanting to feel comfortable with the hope that our experience was well worth the cost and time. (Note: The sentences below justified to the left represent a thematic perspective or a point. The indented sentence represents a counter point).

Israel (as a country) does not exist.
Jews are welcomed

Palestinians - A two country solution is mandatory.
Synagogues are allowed to exist

 ISIS and some other forms of terrorism (most likely) are supported

This area "quietly" supports American and British anti-terrorism activities. While at the Qatar Hotel, this country's military jets daily screamed overhead as they took off from a nearby airport on some sort of mission.

The Gulf Area Addresses Terrorism

The Koran allows up to four wives - supposedly, the main reason is given that, if a woman is unable to conceive, the husband has the right to seek a wife that will be able to conceive. There is an insistence that having four wives is not about "sex."

Seriously! Does anyone truly believe that a man having sex with four woman won't be able to have at least one child?

Other than a low sperm count (which is easy to determine or to assess if a wife is not ovulating correctly (which may be medically corrected), after all four woman have 5, 6 or 7 children, when does the excuse that a wife is not able to conceive is no longer valid?)

Why is it always the wife's fault?

Are the Arab countries truly considering their security, economic and national vulnerability?  

What if crude oil prices drop below $30/barrel and remains at this price for a lengthy period of time and/or gas is < $2.00/gal. (at the gas station)?

What if key urban cities are struck (significantly) by terrorists
(Tourism stops).

What if international development/investment stops

What would happen if all of the low-paying Ex-pats (90% of the worker-bees) joined in protest against the Arab governments for:

In adequate pay
Poor housing
Not having an opportunity to gain citizenship
Not allowed to (legally) marry a local national
Government taking unfair advantage re two-year contracts

All of our guides seemed to have a "scripted message:" Everything is wonderful, fair, there is equal opportunity, equal rights, women are treated as an equal (among men), etc. 

"Everyone" loves the Sultans, the Sheiks and the Amirs. 

         Why not? The people are bribed. This ploy will continue to work
         as long as there is "oil money."

There is no crime - there are no policemen walking the streets.

         Every conceivable position, angle and location has security 
         cameras. We have never seen as many security cameras as in          these countries.

Life here is a - utopia!

This can't be the case

Most women are (seemingly) considered second-class citizens.

Women born to or married to ultra conservative religious families must be covered in public from head to toe. God forbid that another man may see the skin of another man's woman!

We happened to see a situation at The Palace Hotel. A husband's wife's Abaya was starting to part at the neck. The husband quickly reached out and connected the material ensuring that the wife's skin was covered so none could see. 

Liberal Minded: Her Hands And Toes Are Showing

The local newspaper printed an article emphasizing UAE and QATAR was the best place for ex-pat career-oriented women.

        Ex-pats are not allowed to get citizenship 

The Gulf countries tout the accelerated building construction. The governments glorify the fancy, uniquely designed and futuristic buildings connected by wide, free-flowing highways along with driver-less metro trams and trains. 

Tram Track Connects Different Parts Of The City

Yet, construction sites still use palm fronds as fences, wind breaks and for security.

There is a claim that local newspapers are biased with negative positions toward Israel.

This may be true. However, while we were in UAE, Israeli air strikes killed/inured Palestinians.

The same information was printed in the Jerusalem Post

70% of the college students are woman. Men (seemingly) have no interest in going to college. Why should they? The government is paying them not to work.

There has to be an ever growing population of women college graduates that are beginning to wonder, to question and to challenge. 

What happens if the women rise up and protest that "enough is enough?"

Prostitution is not allowed.

Prostitution does  exist. When pressed, there is an admission that this non-existent sin occurs but that it is the expats that do it/offer it - not the locals! Huh?

Human trafficking appears to remain a significant problem.

Much of the Gulf business areas are "glitz" and "bling!" 

Let's shine the light into our visitor's eyes and blind them from the truth.


Dubai is "Hollywood."

Tom Cruise Uses BK Building For "Mission Impossible Movie"

Sitting On Top Of The World

Window Washers Have To Rappel To Clean Windows

Fun Job For Mountain Climbers

Dubai is a combination of Disneyland's Tomorrow Land and Epcot. 

And, yes, UAE does recognize Mickey Mouse. 

We're not complaining. But, a distorted and biased picture was presented to us ...

Artificial ala Las Vegas: Hotel, Retail And Restaurant Complex

With all of the construction that is going on and the speed in which everything is taking place, it is a wonder that there are not too many mistakes.

A hi-rise building across from the KB building and our hotel caught on fire during the 2016 New Year's festivities.

Material Draped Over Building "Hides" Fire Damage

Although hearsay, still there is enough talk about the "winks" and "looking the other way" when it comes to not following local safety agencies and ignoring international safety standards

Homosexuality is not allowed.

How can 21st Century countries continue to claim that homosexuality is a sin, disregard an important population percentage, claim that homosexuality does not exist.

Why is it that local guides and guest lecturers do not want to address the more serious issues?

Restaurants and some hotel areas do not allow alcohol. It is forbidden. 

   Yet. there are some hotel areas and pubs that do sell alcohol.

Although the governments claim that the Moslem Arabs don't drink, a significant percentage of Moslem men do drink at these pubs.... we were told.

It seems on a weekly basis, newspaper articles detail traffic accidents related to excessive drinking.

Typical Pub - Open Until Sunrise - Uncontrolled Drinking

It's odd that the Arab countries purport that they have such an important role internationally. 

Without oil as a bargaining tool, there would be no reason to invest in this area.

         These countries could learn from the Israelis and learn how to 
         grow food in the desert. Agriculture becomes a "boot strap"
         and a real money maker for the Gulf states.

Why can't the Arabs start to invest in alternative fuels? Bio-fuels may not be the answer. Solar cars and lithium battery vehicles may not be the solution. There may be something else that is out there...

It appears that Arab men "flaunt" their headdress. Patterns, coloring and positioning on the head reflect more to the "tribe" or geographical area than presenting "a unity" of the entire geo-political area.

In the WWI era movie, "Lawrence of Arabia," there was a profound encounter when Lawrence told the character (Sherif Ali) played by Omar Sharif,

"So long as the Arabs fight tribe amongst tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people, grieving, barbarous and cruel...!"

Fast forward: Shiites and Sunni, Afghanistan tribes, Iraq and Iran

Very little has changed!

Thanks for reading our blog and following us on this interesting and unusual journey.

Arlene and Jerry