After the camel market we venture to drive up the second tallest mountain in the UAE, the Jebel Hafeet – a whopping 1,249 footer bordering the next emirate of Oman.
We spiral up the mountain, racing to make sunset. We make it just in time. The drive, which has been described as “among the greatest driving roads” by sources such as Edmunds.com (an automotive information source), is incredibly twisty and windy (and nauseating – ugh). It is a triumph when we finally reached the peak.
There is a massive house built on a cliff near the top, which we reason must belong to a sheikh (a member of the ruling family of the UAE), who must have a helicopter to get around.
The Mercure Jebel Hafeet hotel is also at the top. Very cool but very strange – do guests really want to travel up and down such a long and steep distance to and fro? I shiver at the drop in temperature and breathe in the unparalleled views of the mountain valleys below, as the setting sun cast a rainbow in the sky.
TIP: Plan to head up the mountain for sunset, and bring a sweatshirt for the drop in temperature.
What I was really after at the camel and goat souk was some proper goat yodeling – or more accurately, those that yell like humans. My favourite YouTube – the one that gets my goat every time – is Goats Yelling Like Humans – the one I have seen over and over and just can’t stop laughing. Thanks to Ben (shout-out time!) for showing me this gem and letting me roll around on his kitchen floor in laughter. I listened long and hard at the goat pens but alas, only average goats here.
As we were surveying the goat scene, one of the workers reached into the pen for a baby for us to hold. It was a way to make money off tourists, yes, but hey, why not. Who could say no to this adorable little sweetheart, with soft brown fur like a stuffed animal, its gentle demeanour and small frame so very endearing. Oh was she sweet! We wanted to take her home but didn’t have our goat license. When we thanked the man and reached for our money, he smiled and refused. Yes, he was sure. I was so moved at his gentle kindness – it was such an easy way to pocket a few dirhams. Over on the camel side they were pestering us to play with the camels so they could pocket some cash, yet this nice man simply did it for the smiles and delight of a tourist. It was such a kind and pure moment.
TIP: Hold a goat! And watch Goats Yelling Like Humans.
I told Bevan I wanted to see camels, so he gave me camels. Hundreds of them.
A trip to the camel and goat market (souk), where workers of Afghani and Pakistani descent sell their camels to locals for their farms, for breeding, racing and for meat. The dusty expanse in Al Ain, a city in Abu Dhabi, was just buzzing.
The workers kept urging us to get right in there. I was happy to stay on dry land. They wanted money to get us up close and personal, and we obliged, as Bevan loved my camel delight and wanted me to get right in there. I was definitely all camel starstruck. They are sooo cute.
We witnessed a camel sold, as alerted by it screaming its hump off. A bunch of men struggled to lift it into the new owner’s hatchback. I felt sad for the camel, which obviously didn’t want to leave its friends, but perhaps it was moving on to a better, un-caged life. It was a rush spotting a camel roaming on a desert farm from the highway.
TIP: You could easily fall in love with a camel or baby goat, so get your license beforehand so you can bring him or her home with you.
Driving on the massive highways across Dubai and the surrounding emirates – some of which are six lanes – takes some getting used to. Lots of very fast drivers. But they are allowed – the speed limit is 100 but they can drive 120 before a camera snaps their car. Bevan points to the exit lane towards Abu Dhabi and said it gets faster there – in places the speed limit is 120, but motorists can go 140 before a ticket.
On the roads there are hardly any stop signs. In their place are roundabouts to keep the flow of traffic moving. After a long time driving, the continuous sharp turns around these roundabouts can really shake up a stomach, and with frequent U-turns to get across to the other side of the road, the cars are on a perpetual spin ride. Blech.
TIP: The driving feels different and is constantly circling due to all of the roundabouts and U-turns. Those with sensitive stomachs should get accustomed. Don't rush anywhere.
Speaking of breathing, we go to Reem Al Bawadi, the Arabic restaurant where all the stars go, as seen by the photos on the wall of fame. This half-outdoor restaurant is mind-blowingly gorgeous, with fountains and twisting vines and different rooms that are more intriguingly beautiful than the next.
The proper Middle Eastern restaurant experience is not complete without sheesha. Well OK fine, twist my arm. Two pages of fun flavours kick off the menu. I choose my sheesha the way I choose my gum: Strawberry-melon, please. The waiter carts over this massive hookah, lights it up, drags staccato-style to get it going, and hands us a fresh pipe. I’m pumped – yes, hookah cafes in Toronto aside – I love these genuine experiences. I am also captivated by the woman at the table next to us, gingerly drawing in from her pipe and letting waft the biggest plumes and clouds of smoke imaginable, a sweet scent billowing over us as she sits with it dangling from her mouth, hardly missing a beat in her conversation. I like the flavour we choose. I order a frothy and thick lemon-mint juice, a huge plate of grilled meat and call it a day.
TIP: Go to Reem Al Bawadi, sit outside, and people watch. It smells great out there. If you order the mango ice tea, the chunks of mango are mixed with chunks of ginger, so nibble at your own risk. The lemon-mint juice is happiness in a glass.
Phish has been my go-to soundtrack for my runs on the beach. There’s something about wandering through the unknown, with the peaks and valleys of Phish’s melodious expression with you along the way.
I choose “The Curtain With” as my first song jumping onto the sand because it had such an effect on me when I was backpacking through Australia way back when. It had been the soundscape to my picking through the rainforest and suddenly landing on a beautiful, deserted beach. I felt like I was in some type of adventure video game. And again, Curtain had its effect. “Gumbo” added an exhilarating elixir to my clopping through the sand, past kite flyers and the gently waving Persian Gulf. Just as I was thinking about the magic of Phish, how it always added the perfect punctuation to interesting moments, the band seemed to comment on my reverence: The exact second I reached the end and stopped to turn around and breathe, “Fee” sang out “and catch your breath.” Perfect.
TIP: Go Phishing.
Arabic food is yummy. Very meaty. We head to a tourist district called Souk Madinat Jumeirah that is just gorgeous. Right on the water with the majestic Dubai skyline as backdrop, and tourists from all walks of life dressed up and enjoying themselves. We decide on Persian food and go to an Iranian restaurant called Anar, which translates to “pomegranate.” The red seeds were part of many dishes (love that).
I had a creamy pistachio soup and then we had some stewy chicken and lamb dishes that immobilized us for the rest of the night. Heavy! Ugh. No, we don’t have room for dessert. Nor do we have the capacity to breathe.
TIP: Checking out Souk Madinat Jumeirah is a must, and I would definitely suggest Anar, but watch those stews, they are incredibly rich and filling.
With me as houseguest, stocking up on toilet paper is a must, and we forgot to buy some last night at Spinneys. But do not stress. Bevan tells me Dubai can be a very lazy place, and much like ordering a pizza, you can pick up the phone and order anything you like.
Five minutes later, a delivery man arrives with a massive package of TP on his bike. This was a source of amazement. Need OJ? Smokes? A loaf of bread? They will deliver it, with no extra charge. But no alcohol, of course. Unless a restaurant is attached to a hotel, alcohol is not served at restaurants, and you need a drinking license to have booze on your premises. I am getting used to the Muslim way. And juice with dinner.
TIP: Run out of something insignificant on purpose and try this deliver-anything thing for no charge, it will amaze you too.
In the Middle East the weekend is Friday and Saturday, as Friday is the holy day, back to work on Sunday. I’m in a bit of a daze, having lost all this sleep and having been woken early. But I am jolted by energy when I see where I am living for the next two weeks, in an area called Jumeirah.
What a beautiful place, greenery everywhere, potted plants, and a back door that opens up right to the beach. It truly is a sight. I can feel the “big relax” settling in and it feels wonderful. Bevan and I spend the day in chill mode, catching up, exploring the beach and looking at our photos from China that I brought with me. Bevan’s memory is much better than mine and we spend hours reliving all of the strange and superb times traipsing through the Far East. What a crazy world that was. I love how it united us with experiences that built our character, and now we can see how our character developed over the years.
TIP: Lug the 10 pounds of old photos – reliving special moments is well worth it.
Published journalist, world traveller, big thinker, fun haver