Dubai

With not a little regret we departed India. Yes the filth, societal attitudes and chaotic life there were daunting to live around. But there is such a long, incredible, historical past integrated with India that makes her so majestic to travelers. Not to fear though, since we quickly discovered that there are an abundance of friendly Indians (men only of course) working and living in Dubai. We knew hotels would be outrageous when we decided to stretch our four hour flight layover between India and Tanzania to three days, but still decided to have the experience. We managed to find a semi reasonable eight story hotel close to the “action” and the airport. It still cost us $699.53 for two rooms, for two nights each. There was another one for about $80 less per room per night, but it was about another 45 minutes (outside of rush hour) taxi ride away to the far East of Dubai near the secondary airport. It also had several very bad ratings on the trip adviser web site. This one even had a roof top pool which we never had time to make it to for the two nights we were there. That evening I bought some milk and disposable bowls to go with the boxes of honey nut corn flakes we still had leftover from India. Mmmmmm. Sure beat paying $15 each for toast and eggs downstairs!

That first afternoon, after checking in we headed to the “Mall of the Emirates” to try and go skiing for a two hour block. It turns out that strong proficiency is a must before beginners are allowed on the hill at all. Those who have never skied before (like Alex & Luke) MUST take a one hour “discovery” lesson first, and then work their way up through five additional 90 minute lessons before they can go on the chair by themselves. Worse yet, we discovered that all lesson slots for that day were full up until about 9:00 PM. Thus we promptly booked a discovery lesson and then a successive (and expensive) private lesson for the kids. We spent the remainder of the evening having a meal and fighting our way through rush hour traffic back to our hotel. We planned on seeing (and taking pictures of) the 7 star sail hotel and the new tallest building in the world in the daylight tomorrow.

The next day we had planned to leave by 10:00 AM for some daylight pictures before needing to be at the ski hill by noon, but it just didn’t seem to happen. Yet another lazy day found us getting out the door barely in time to have a quick bite for lunch at the mall, before needing to get the kids geared up for their introductory “discovery” lesson. After they were good to go and waiting for the instructor, Claudette and I went to get outfitted. All equipment was supplied except for a toque and gloves, which we had to buy. Claudette and I didn’t bother with hats, and Alex still hat her hat and gloves from China that she kept forgetting to send home in parcels. Luke and I had simply (and intentionally) left ours behind at Jim & Letty’s place since we couldn’t fathom needing them again. Alex kept hers cause she liked the colors and style, and wanted to use them at home next winter. The “ski” store had cheap little fleece children’s gloves for $5 or full size adult ski gloves for $22. Claudette could fit the kids ones, and I bought some for myself as well. There was no way my fingers could fit in, but there was also no way I was gonna pay that much for full sized gloves for only a few hours! Thus, after paying, I borrowed some scissors and cut all the tips of the fingers off. The guys behind the till were shocked and then understood what I was doing. The Aussie guy even suggested that he was gonna do that too since his fingers just got too warm and sweaty in the regular gloves. My only reply was that, “Yeah! It’s a great idea and the Chicks really dig it!” gave them an even bigger laugh.

I should make a note here for posterity’s sake about Claudette’s “fears”. “Some” women’s irrationality really astounds me sometimes, (and my wife’s asound me on a regular basis). The evening before we were going to go skiing, she was Hmmming and Hawing and generally fretting about possibly joining in the beginner lesson herself! Simply CRAZY!!! It took extensive convincing on my part (with an incredulous voice at first, that I slowly tamed into a soothing, convincing tone by the end of the discussion) before she agreed to give it a try on the hill first. She was worried that after almost fourteen years of not skiing that she would have completely forgotten how. Geeeessh!

I had forgotten the larger video camera, but Alex had remembered to bring her waterproof, shock resistant one along. So Claudette and I took a few runs while the kids were getting prepped and used to their ski legs. We took a bunch of photos and some video of their first forays on skis and going up the conveyor belt lift on the bunny hill. After that first lesson (one hour) we were all even a little cool, (but in a very refreshing way for Claudette and I). The kids private lesson wasn’t for another half hour, and their previous Austrian instructor allowed them to stay on the hill with me until the next lesson. Luke was a little combative about me making him work, but we practiced some more for the next twenty minutes before they had to go and meet their next instructor for the private lesson. That one went REALLY well, and both kids excelled dramatically. With ten minutes left, the instructor suggested we take Alex on the chairlift on the big hill while he stayed with Luke to get his left leg working better. By the end of the formal lesson I stayed with Luke on the bunny hill a bit longer to make him practice, but he was very frustrated with being left behind by Alex’s methodical skill at having mastered turning while in a snowplow.

When the kids cards would no longer work to get them into the lifts, Claudette had already decided to go along with Alex after a few trips to the top of the chairlift. I then managed to take Luke for two runs up the chairlift to get him a better chance of practicing that terrible right turn. On the second run, he got off the chairlift half way (nice and smoothly I should add) and I continued on to the top for the last run of the day. The “last run of the day” for skiers is notorious for including an injury, and this first “last run of the day” for me in over a dozen years was no different. As I was doing something that perhaps maybe I shouldn’t have, I fell in a spiraling cartwheel down the hill. I quickly got up and skied down the rest of the way to where Luke was waiting for me. At this point moving my legs was excruciating! and I barely made it the rest of the way down the hill with Luke, never mind carrying our ski’s in to get changed and leave. By this point, I realized that I had pulled my groin muscle HUGELY, and could barely but one leg in front of the other. When I explained this to Claudette her immediate reaction was not quite support. She lambasted me for doing something so stupid as she was now going to have to do so much more, and work harder carrying things. Ugh!

So after a hot soothing bath that night, I felt a little better. My family (some of them openly, some of them secretly) still snickered at my waddling around the room though. At the airport the next morning after checking in I asked and found out that the check-in gate was a twenty minute walk away. I causally inquired about borrowing one of the several wheelchairs sitting there and then was asked to wait a few minutes. About fifteen minutes later a man came up and got me in one, took my boarding pass and proceeded to wheel me away. I protested saying that my family could push me and that I didn’t need the “attendant” but he insisted that I wasn’t allowed to have a wheelchair on my own. Thus we were sped through a “special” line in security and taken to an elevator just beyond. Upstairs we all boarded an electric cart and rode most of the way though the terminals and gates to a special disabled waiting to board room. There was a sign asking family members of the crippled to wait outside, but the room was empty and so Claudette and the kids came in with me. There we enjoyed a free wifi connection, comfy seats and a distinct lack of noisy crowds. Mmmm… I managed to sneak out of the room and propelled myself across the great hall to the washroom. At the time of boarding I was pushed all the way to the gate while Claudette and the kids rode the moving sidewalks and we boarded. They had arranged a special elevator bus for me too, but I insisted on taking the regular bus and climbing the stairs from the tarmac to the plane myself. Whew!

The flight was not too bad, and I managed not to cramp up too badly. When we landed in Dar Es Salaam I tried to grab a wheelchair just inside the terminal but was firmly rebuffed! Only if I had made arrangements with the flight crew before landing could I possibly enjoy such a privilege I was told. So I sighed and waddled on shaking my head at the grand inequities of a world-class port like Dubai and the backwoods firm rules of Africa. The general friendliness and desire to accomodate in Dubai was very refreshing. This of course reminds me of a little story that one taxi driver had told us. Dubai seems to be a long narrow strip of land adjacent to the ocean. there are about six or seven major 6-8 lane roadways running parallel to the oceanfront at different intervals. Unfortunately there are still just too many cars on the roads. That fact coupled with the generalization that most people work in one half of Dubai and live in the other half make “rush hour” traffic crazy at best, and a two hour almost standstill at worst. This rush hour begins at 4:00 PM and goes until about 8:30 PM though.

So, as we were stuck for an hour and a half trying to take a trip we had previously done in 23 minutes, the driver told us about the sheik there. Apparently he’s a very down to earth kinda guy. We already knew about the sheik’s incredible vision in creating an incredible upscale tourist destination and a fantastic trading/port economy with the tax free zone. The Sheik also drives around in his own car, by himself. No driver, no bodyguards, no escorts, nothing. The only way the “people” know it’s him is from the Dubai license plate, simple “1” instead of the five digit number everyone else gets. There were a few other quaint stories that were interesting as well. the last one though involved the Sheik dressing up in old, dirty clothes. He had arranged for an old beater car, and often went driving around the town at 3:00 AM to see what tourists, the “common man” and his police force were up to. Apparently he’d made this foray into the nightlife many times, and once had caught a policeman taking a bribe or doing something bad. The policeman was fired, and all others were generally on their toes following the news. Sounds like a fun place to live, if one could afford it!

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