Dubai & Abu Dhabi
Incredibly we've been here almost 2 weeks! We're enjoying Dubai -though the land of the super rich ..(or some of them) has been bit of a shock to our systems after years in the 3rd world.
We finally get the car today..after a bit of the usual shipping run around so we'll be mobile again..hurrah!! Meanwhile we've been living in luxury at our friends Stephan & Corinne lovley apartment which has been really good. It's a lot pricier here and funds are low so we're very grateful. Updates to follow.
Update: Tuesday 10th April - Wednesday 2nd May 2012 So, we arrived in Dubai in the very early hours of Tuesday 10th April. We had to kill a couple of hours waiting for the metro to start at 6 am before heading to meet up with Corinne. First impressions were a bit of reverse culture shock -everything here is so modern, so clean and so prosperous. No beggars cows or rubbish!
We quickly got a mobile phone card sorted. It's slightly more expensive to do so here than in Pakistan or India but very much easier. You just sign a document and there you are, whereas in India particularly it's a really protracted rigmarole, more akin to buying a house than just getting a phone hooked up!
It was lovely to meet up with Corinne and Stephan again -our Brazilian/German friends whom we met in Kerela 2 years ago. We spent a great few days with them before they headed off to Europe on holiday -leaving us to house and plant sit. As accommodation is pricey here in Dubai this has been really welcome. It's been a real treat to have such a comfortable well situated home - with TV, free internet and even a roof top pool and we've been really spoilt. Thanks guys we really appreciate it.
It took over a week in all but we now have the car back. I went down with a major migraine around the time the car arrived so poor Andrew had to do battle alone with the shipping people. As ever it wasn't without frustrations -and he got sent from pillar to post a few times. We hit a bit of a catch 22 in that we had to have car insurance to drive the car off the port…but we couldn't find an insurance supplier who'd insurance a non UAE vehicle! When we did finally track one down ( the New India Insurance Company a year's insurance to cover both Dubai and Oman for 825 AED or $217 Aus.) by that time we'd hit the weekend (Friday and Saturday here) so of course we wouldn't get the car until Sunday, and then we had to pay for the weekend's storage! Diesel here is annoyingly pricey when compared with petrol, as whilst the latter is made here the former is all imported. Diesel costs approximately $1 Aus. a litre and petrol around 35 cents. Unsurprisingly cars running on diesel are a rarity here!
The whole shipping saga cost us $858 USD at the Pakistan end and $734 this end so $ 1592 USD in all.. plus flights of course which pushes it up to just over $2,000 in all. Anyway ….it's all done now and it's a big relief to have the car back. In the meantime we missed the date for our entry into Iran so we lost our visa. The whole thing was a bit of a fiasco -we'd realized the car wouldn't be ready for us to cross into Iran by the 16th April as needed -so we booked a cheap flight to Shiraz in Iran -meaning to have a couple of days there and then return to pick up the car. Then my migraine struck and I was too sick to move let alone fly, so Andrew went to the Iranian embassy and they agreed to let us have a further visa, so we postponed our flight. We can't get the money back but we can use the credit to fly somewhere else - so we'll either be doing a flying trip before we leave -or hopefully using the flight for a short break whilst staying here for a while. What a palaver!
It's funny -this is the world of snazzy cars -Porsches and (stretch!) Hummers abound as do Lamborghinis convertible Mercedes and even a few Rollers. However it's our old car that gets all the attention, with people wanting to be pictured next to it etc No doubt it's so old and shabby and non-flashy it's noteworthy! There are a few older cars knocking around here- but usually these are beautifully restored -like the old dodge pickup which Andrew and Stephan were in awe of...not just old old like our car!
Once we got the car back and had a few days to adjust to Dubai we took a long hard look at our finances which was a bit scary! The unexpected shipping and a few other large expenses (land tax oh joy!) have really depleted funds so we made a decision to stay put here and find work in the UAE. This has been easier said than done. The glory days of the crazy boom have gone for most of us and whilst the recession is beginning to lift it's not yet over by any means. I'm finding it particularly hard - in the female dominated world of HR there are a wealth of candidates who have spouse visas i.e.) they are sponsored by their husbands or fathers. This makes getting a work permit far easier/cheaper for potential employers and thus makes getting a job much tougher for those like me not in this position.
Also here unlike the West there's no problem being discriminatory in your job advertisements - so most jobs seem to be ear marked for particular genders, or nationalities -making it tough to find suitable opportunities in which you fit all the gender and race as well as the work based criteria! Andrew seems to be having more luck -and has had a couple of interviews -in Abu Dhabi mainly rather than Dubai. As anyone who's ever looked for work will know the whole thing isn't easy and the slowness of progress seems pretty tough at times. Still we'll give it our best shot before we head on ....please keep everything crossed for us and anyone out there with good contacts in boatbuilding/refurbishment and interior fit out (Andrew) or HR/Recruitment (Ann) here in Dubai please drop us a line!
Other than job hunting we have got out and about in Dubai a bit -the last few weeks seem to be a blur of incredible architecture (the world's highest building, the world's most expensive hotel….etc! ) and equally gob smacking shopping centres, which come complete with ski slopes and aquariums alongside the designer shops! We're here on a visitor visa which runs out shortly - which means we have to do a visa run to nearby Oman - and we'll tie that in with having a look around there.
One thing that strikes you about Dubai is how seriously multicultural it is, with foreigners outnumbering the local Emirati populace. There are quite a few Western expats (though less than once was the case) and a huge mixed population of Russians, Indians, Philippinos Pakistanis, Africans ..you name it really! The dress code is very relaxed here. I'd become used to travelling in conservative areas so this was the first time in ages I'd seen shorts and singlets en masse! The local men often wear tradition dress -the wonderfully named Dishdashah with a head dress and the ladies often wear a loose black hijab. Usually though they leave their faces uncovered and are beautifully made up. They often (the ladies) wear their hair up in elaborate bee hive arrangements -with the result that they look a bit like the late great Amy Winehouse - without the tattoos no doubt! They're an attractive race of people.
Andrew was keen to see the Dubai Marina, a high end accommodation and boating area, which ( unsurprisingly!) is also seriously impressive - plenty of money being spent there! We also had a look at Deira waterfront and the old wooden dhows which take anything and everything across the water to Iran. We had a chat with a few of the Iranian fishermen -little English spoken but very friendly guys. Whilst it is possible to cross this way (with the car too -though not sure how comfortable I'd be with that!) it's cheaper and easier to cross by ferry into Iran ..when we finally get around to that.
Nearby we also saw the Heritage Village -which had an interesting selection of old pictures depicting how the whole region has been transformed over the last 30 years - and a section showing the local art of calligraphy - where we had our names depicted in ancient script.
They also had traditional houses on display with the distinctive wind towers - which drive the wind into the building to bring a much needed cooling effect.
As I write this (Wednesday 2nd May) we're preparing to move on from our luxury pad tomorrow. It's starting to get hotter by the day here, so not the most ideal time to be heading off to camp at the beach! We've run an advert on a couple of local internet sites offering our services as house sitters. Apparently a lot of people run away from the heat in the next few months - so we're hoping to score somewhere to stay. Meanwhile as I said we're off to Oman next week to both see a bit more of this interesting region and renew our visas.
Update: Wed. 2nd - Wed. 9th May 2012
After leaving Stephan and Corinne's flat we headed off to Satwa. This is a nearby suburb with lots of car repair places so we've been there a couple of times to get things fixed or buy bits and pieces -these areas are like a magnet to Andrew! It's also a cheaper place to grab a Sharma (grilled kebab roll with salad) for dinner, as it's not so full of rich Emiratis and/or white ex-pats as some other areas so the prices come down. The local population is largely a mix of Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis. We try and get a sticker from each country we visit so we have "We love India" on one side and, just to be fair, "We Love Pakistan" on the other. This has ensured that we've made lots of friends who are interested in hearing about our journey through their respective countries … in fact we even made a friend from Peshawar who (as ever!) immediately made us tea- just like being back in Pakistan!
Anyway as night fell we made our way down to the beach at Jumeriah where we'd already sussed out a good parking spot. This was when it all went wrong. We were talking about something else as we drove across the car park and we managed to hit the only bit of soft sand and get the vehicle completely bogged! The car -particularly when both fuel and water tanks are full - is no lightweight and the more we tried to get out the deeper buried we were.
Due to the searing temperatures in the day the beach tends to get very busy at night -families come down to picnic and young man zoom around in their flashy cars …so we were quickly pulled out by a passing hummer .. but unfortunately the axel studs had seared off in the process and needed replacing. This had happened before on the KKH in Pakistan but this time all 6 studs were gone not just 2 -though luckily we do carry spares. Until they were replaced the car wasn't drivable. This meant that rather than finding a quiet corner to tuck ourselves away in as planned, we had to sleep at a bad angle -without turning to get the benefit of the sea breezes! In addition the picnickers/boy racers kept on coming until the early hours, making sleep a distant dream! Not the best start to our camping in Dubai!
We awoke to bright (very!) sunlight at 7.30am. As it was Friday (the start of the weekend and the Muslim holy day here) we decided to leave the car for a day before getting it towed to a garage. So we sat at the car in a bit of shade and ate breakfast. Whilst there we met a few nice people from the UK and Oz who, interested in the car, came over to say hello, as did a local lady swathed from head to tow in a black abaya (the robe Muslim ladies wear) & veil.
This was Gimarsha who had a holiday home nearby and she very kindly invited us back for lunch. When we explained that we wouldn't be driving anywhere that day(!) she said she and her young nephew would return home and then send her car and driver to pick us up so that was what happened. Thus we were whisked from the beach into the cool comfort of Gimarsha's air conditioned home. Gimarsha is married to a Sheikh from Abu Dhabi who owns multiple businesses and is (not usual for the region) very wealthy. Also typical for the region was the huge degree of hospitality we were shown. Like all Muslims Arabs take providing hospitality to guests very seriously.
Andrew and I were separated for the day, as the family follows a strict version of the Islamic code and men and women don't mix much. Thus Andrew got to sit with the men whereas I spent my day with the ladies and children, and a huge army of nannies and servants mainly from the Philippines.
Gimarsha has no children, but hates to have an empty house so she enjoys inviting a huge assortment of friends and relations into her home. Her main property is in Abu Dhabi and she was down in Dubai just for the weekend. It was a lovely relaxing time for me, chatting with the ladies and eating dates/sipping tea in luxurious surrounds! We ventured out in the afternoon for a trip to the bazaar where Gimarsha bought a lot of clothes for all the children. I even got to have a massage courtesy of the in-house masseur -a very nice Chinese lady -so I felt very good. This is the life!
Gimarsha was horrified we were living in the car in the heat and so she very kindly invited us to stay that night. The next morning Andrew went off to get the car sorted out with her driver, and I had another relaxing day. By afternoon we were invited to join the party who were heading back to Abu Dhabi, but Andrew was still dealing with the car, so we stayed in Dubai.
Gimarsha very kindly let us stay on in the driver's quarters (appropriate for Andrew!) of the house so we remained in that all important air conditioning -with Aziz a nice Bangladeshi guy who is the watchman for the house - as a neighbour. Near the Jumeriah beach the house is in a lovely spot with a great view of the Burj Khalifa (at 509 metres the tallest building in the world) at the nearby Dubai Mall.
Having somewhere to stay out of the ever increasing temperate is a real relief, and we had been concerned how we'd cope being in the car as the mercury climbs. If we get jobs we'll immediately rent a place …if being the all important word! Someone suggested that as a lot of people leave the city in the summer we run an advert advertising our services as house sitters to look after pets/plants whilst they are away so we've posted on a couple of local internet forums. Hope something turns up but in the meantime we're very grateful to Gimarsha for offering us a cool spot!
The car was fixed by that evening, thankfully it was done on the beach and we didn't need to go to the expense of getting a tow truck which we'd thought would be the case. The next day we headed on to Abu Dhabi where once again we went to stay with Gimarsha. Again we were separated (the property is part of a large complex with totally separate "mens" and "ladies" sections) and I spent a lovely evening with the ladies and children. We ate late outside in an luxurious open air tent -with the sea breezes wafting all around us -lovely!
Next morning we headed to one of Gimarsha's boats which was moored nearby and went for a trip around the bay. Gimarsha was a dab hand driving the boat and also caught fish of the day -whilst Andrew's effort had to be thrown back in! It really was a gorgeous spot with clear water and the traditional buildings on the shore contrasting with the modern city skyline. We'd like to have stayed longer but (amazingly!) our visa expires today and so we're off to Oman for a month. We return to Dubai after this -hopefully something will be moving on the job front by then!
So..groaning under the weight of the goodies Gimarsha gave us from her kitchen we waved goodbye and headed off the 155km to Al Ain a town near the border. Gimarsha actually has a house there too, so we plan to visit her there on the way back through. The road conditions are really good here and we reached Al Ain in a couple of hours and asked a police car the way to the border. They very kindly escorted us for 30 minutes all the way to the border post at Al Buraymi. Here we paid the 35 AED each departure tax to leave the UAE . As a lot of UAE people live in Oman (cheaper rents) and Omani people work in UAE (higher wages) this border allegedly sometimes has shocking queues but thankfully we were straight through. Unusually the Omani border post of Wadi -al - Jizzi is actually 18km inside Oman and we reached it and rocked up to customer/immigration at 5pm.