Mad season

June 20, 2009 § 4 Comments

For a desert, it wasn’t as hot as I had thought. The temperature outside had been a sizzling 35 degrees but the eternally air-conditioned Abu Dhabi buildings felt like ice. It was to be my final stop before returning home. Home, that word just feels good.

My trusty friend H had already booked a table at Oceans, one of many hip and glitzy nightclubs in the Emirates, where the beautiful see and are seen. Despite my protests that I was to board a 12-hour flight early next morning, somehow I was told sternly that I wasn’t the pilot and therefore getting wasted the night before was apparently a rule, not an exception. As I walked into the chilly atmosphere of the club, I tried to hide my badly torn jeans and slippered feet from the shiny pretty dresses all the other girls were wearing.

It was ladies night, and ladies night in the Emirates means free cocktails all night long. On top of that, another friend M had brought along his gang of Italian mafia buddies who bought us girls countless shots of a luminous blue drink. The name of it was unknown to me but the taste and effect became known a little too quickly for my liking. The long island tea I was sipping was extremely long, so by the end of it without sense or judgement all that bright liquid found its way down my throat.

By early morning we retired, and after another cold night, I dragged myself to the airport. My head was heavy and I remember being relieved at snagging the best cab driver in the world. In my opinion that means a cab driver who only speaks when asking for the destination and fare. Beyond that I really try to avoid any kind of verbal contact with cabbies. Call me stuck-up, but I have absolutely nothing to contribute to a conversation involving cricket and Pakistan. He did have a weird phone ring tone which sounded like a crazed bird call, plus he didn’t smell as bad.

The flight home was rather uneventful. I scored for once and sat next to a cute, blond, tall, blue-eyed Aussie boy from Coogee, though I doubt he would have appreciated talking to a hung-over grump. I didn’t even try and distracted myself by watching movie after movie. After what seemed like the longest flight I’ve ever been on, the plane landed, finally. I’ve never been so happy to hear Kyle and Jackie O.

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Curtain call

June 17, 2009 § 2 Comments

Picture 251

Back in the desert for a short transit, mental preparation begins today. Physical preparation begins tomorrow. I think I did everything I wanted to do, saw all the places I wanted to see, and met all the people I wanted to meet, including the most important one. I’m ready to go home. I can almost feel it. Bali was the last parade, and this picture is how I want to remember the last 9 months. It already feels like I dreamed a big old dream. Sunrise, sunset.

Couchsurfers united

March 31, 2009 § 2 Comments

My dear couchsurfers,

It has been exactly 185 days since I left the sunny shores of Sydney to see your side of the world. When I left I had nothing but my backpack and a thirst for the unknown.

I have been to 3 continents, 18 countries, and crossed over many seas and oceans. My feet have walked thousands of miles. They are weary but I have seen and done more than I ever thought myself to be capable of doing. Most importantly they have led me to you all. I will always remember that you have shared with me your homes, your lives, and most of all, yourselves, with me.

So thank you all from the bottom of my heart. My journey has been possible because of you. I leave to Southeast Asia today, and will be back in Australia in a few months. Farewell, and see you on the other side. My couch will always be open to you.

Always,
Steph

In the desert

March 30, 2009 § 5 Comments

It was a stormy night. Just my luck to get this weather. In the desert, folks!

I’m back in the Emirates for a few days, in Abu Dhabi. On the agenda, visit an old friend, eat lots of spicy food, drink fake beer, check out grand hotels, and spend more money in 3 days than I ever spent 2 weeks in Europe. Also! Watch Coldplay play their final tour show.

H and I went to the Emirates Palace to hang out while waiting for the concert. The place is amazingly amazing. Everything is big and gold. The sofas are plush and shiny and opulent. There are large cars everywhere. People are rich. There is a little man at the reception standing to serve you tea. H and I went to the hotel cafe and had expensive tea and pretended to be posh for a little while.

The concert, complimented by heavy rain and lightning flashes in the background while Chris Martin was screaming ‘we’re singing in the rain!’, was super awesome. Despite being soaked to the bone and being cold and wet, it was an unforgettable experience. Come on, watching Coldplay, live, in the rain, in the middle of the fucking desert! Could not get better than that.

Bashing dunes in the desert

October 4, 2008 § Leave a comment

I just realized I’m in the middle of the fucking desert. It’s my fourth day in Dubai, and all I want to do is sit inside Maria’s 24 hour air-conditioned villa and hang out by the pool. That’s because it’s almost 40 degrees outdoors, no shade for miles, and no pedestrian friendly footpaths. I feel like my skin is melting the minute I step out. It’s really hard to leave such a comfortable house, but I decide that I want to go on a desert safari.

Ok, so I haul my ass away from the air-conditioning and off I went to Al-Badayer desert, about an hour away from Dubai. Maria sweetly accompanies me, and together with three Frenchies and our Pakistani guide, make up our safari group. As we zoomed away from Dubailand, the shiny buildings start to disappear and all I see are vast amounts of sand, lovely sand.

So apparently we would be doing something called dune-bashing. What? Alright, sounds fun to me. Everyone failed to mention that dune-bashing means driving vigorously up and down the desert. And I mean vigorously. Of course most people don’t know that I get motion sickness really easily, and as our guide bashed those dunes like nobody’s business, I began to wish I didn’t have that ice-cream earlier. However, the bashing stopped after a while, and we all got to stop for some desert sand-boarding. Note to self: don’t open mouth and scream as board slides down dunes, as sand is not very tasty.

Soon after we were taken to a camp with a buffet dinner and belly-dancing show. While waiting for dinner to be served, I got to ride a camel. Camels are awesome. I want to bring one home. The belly-dancer was awesome. I want to bring one home. Come on, EVERYONE needs a camel and a belly-dancer at home!

213

October 2, 2008 § Leave a comment

I am completely tripped out by last night’s secret dinner location. Because the Emirates is an Islamic nation, getting to eat pork was a rare commodity, and we were told that some tasty pork dishes could be had at this place. It was about 7:30pm and Josephine and Nicholas (Maria’s pals) came to pick us up and off we zoomed to Deira, a low-key shopping suburb in Dubai. From the safe enclosure of the car I observed the lines and lines of Indian workers waiting for the bus to go home for the day. Oh yeah, Dubai is 60% Indian populated. And also, it was hard to spot any females walking around.

So we arrived in Deira. We hopped out of the car park, Jo and Nick led us through the chaotic footpaths and onto a very indiscreet block of shops along one of the streets. Everything in the building was closed, but yet the main door was open, welcoming strangers to explore its darkness, or perhaps get themselves up to no good within its seedy confines. Maria and I followed with a mixture of hesitation yet curiosity, wandered amongst all the closed shops until we arrived at a squeaky old lift. Jo pressed the buttons with familiarity and up we went.

More white corridors filled with many, many, brown doors to what looked like entrances to flats above the shops. There was some scratchy red writing on the tiled wall that greeted us as we stepped out of the lift. ‘213’ was all it said, and an arrow pointing left. We walked on, and stopped at one of the brown doors. Jo gave it a a few knocks, and I almost fell over when it was opened by a Chinese lady, and it was a FULL BUSTLING RESTAURANT. People were queuing up and ordering things like pig’s tongue. There were tables with local businessman chatting up Chinese prostitutes and negotiating with their pimps. The ‘living room’ became the front desk and ordering station, with piles of food on display. The ‘bathrooms’ were preparation areas and the makeshift kitchen was vented through a crude opening in the wall. It was like something out of the Matrix, when a different door revealed a different world. Oh man. I gulped down my Red Horse beer and munched on some sweet and sour pork, and wondered, how did I ever I end up in a place like this in the backstreets of Dubai??

Big Bad Dubai

October 1, 2008 § Leave a comment

So I’ve decided to start my travel blog. What better place to start off with than Dubai. I think I should thank myself for starting in the Middle East because hey, it’s supposed to be the land of mystery and exotic happenings, right? Actually my first strange encounter was on the flight over, when a Middle Eastern national stood up in the middle of his seat, and asked me in a very loud voice if I was someone’s wife. Wtf?? As I sauntered embarassedly back to my seat, I hoped that I wouldn’t be asked that often.

I arrived in Dubai at 2am and loitered around for a few hours to wait to get to my couchsurfing host’s villa. As I rang Maria’s doorbell at 6am, the first thing I noticed was the massive black Hummer sitting on the front porch. I thought, ooooooh, and began to miss my 4×4. All those thoughts disappeared as sleepy-eyed Maria (sorry girl!) opened the door and welcomed me into her beautiful home, which even had a swimming pool. I could not have been luckier. After an hour of chatting, Maria mentioned something about an activity at the outskirts of the city and before I knew it, I was kidnapped and taken crab-hunting on my first evening in Dubai.

Crab-hunting at Umm Al-Qaiwain was something of a big novelty. It was at one of the most artificial looking beach resorts on the outskirts of Dubai, and all of a sudden, a wharf appears at the end of the ‘beach’ where a small tug boat takes a bunch of silly tourists (like me) out to stab crabs in the middle of the Arabian Gulf. I managed to get one crab and felt extremely satisfied with myself.

Today I got to see abit of the city in the day. There is nothing subtle about it. The shiny skyscrapers appear out of nowhere, and suddenly they’re everywhere. Everything is big, bad, and done to the extreme. Where else would you find a hotel plunged amidst an enormous aquarium, with a massive waterpark in which you can frolick with dolphins? At The Atlantis, I found myself joining the crowds to ooh and ahh at the giant stingrays and sharks at the lobby. I even sat on the giant Atlantis chair, surrounded by the giant seashells and the giant seahorses.

Tonight I’m being taken to some secret dinner location, and later on to Burj Al-Arab to sip cocktails in the world’s first 7-star hotel. Dubai is a city on crack and and ready to provide everyone their high. I’m totally giving in. Bring in on baby!

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