By the time we escaped the port it was almost three p.m., so we wasted no time in heading towards Dubai. We had not exactly sorted anywhere to stay, so the plan was to find a shopping mall, get some much needed food and some wi-fi, and book somewhere online.
After having spent almost two months travelling through the East of Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Iran, it is hard to explain how arriving in Dubai felt. We were utterly overwhelmed by the wide roads, the fancy cars, the towering skyscrapers and the proliferation of shops. I was reminded of a story I read in Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. It concerned two members of a previously uncontacted tribe from South America, who had been completely unaware of the existence of modern city life. When they were shown a major American city for the first time, they were so shocked that 'lavishly, and in unison' they wet themselves. This was almost exactly how we felt, although thankfully for all involved, our bladders held true.
We found the Wafi mall, and wandered slowly around, open-mouthed. The first eating and drinking establishment we found was Starbucks. Usually we don't like to give them our money, but wi-fi was essential. After some caffeine and an awesome panini, our initial city-shock was becoming giddyness. It was totally overwhelming to think that suddenly everything was available, and it felt like anything was possible. Having spent the past two days occupied with the surreal world of paperwork and the boat trip, emerging blinking into the bright cityscape of Dubai was certainly a trippy experience.
Not having pre-booked anywhere to stay paid off, and we ended up getting a massive last minute discount at the Rose Garden Apartment Hotel. It was still expensive by Iran standards, but for our money we had a large studio flat in a nice part of town. Needless to say, we were exhausted from our luxury cruise. I was flat out by half past nine, with Oli crashing out not long after. I had one of the best night's sleep of my life, and we woke up the next morning feeling fabulous.
We took a long time to get going, and definitely felt like we deserved a rest after the past few days. We made a few enquiries to shipping companies about the bike transport to Thailand, and left them putting together some quotes. It was afternoon by the time we left the apartment, and we decided to walk over to the Burjuman mall, conveniently located a five minute walk from our front door. This was not your average shopping centre – pretty much the only store not selling expensive jewellery or designer gear was Boots. However it was a lovely quiet place to spend some time, a cool respite from the heat with numerous pretty water features. We were starving, and stumbled across The Noodle House. This place served excellent quality South East Asian food, which we washed down with fresh lemongrass and mint iced teas.
A walk around the mall was pretty much all we achieved that day, as we were still exhausted. We had made vague plans to go and see the fountains then get dinner out, but instead we indulged in the luxury of a machine clothes wash (first one since Kars, East Turkey) and fell asleep. Nobody can claim we're not rock and roll.
Whilst we were in the neighbourhood, we thought we should plan a few days in Oman. Mindful of the paperwork experience of getting the bike into Dubai from Iran, we made a few phone calls to the Road Traffic Authority. We were eventually told we needed to come to their office to get a trip ticket, which would allow us to take the bike out of the country without hassle. Not wanting to waste any time, we hopped on the bike and made our way there.
On arrival, we discovered that the RTA did not actually issue this piece of paper. They told us we needed to go to the U.A.E. Automobile Club, about five minutes drive away. Getting back on the bike, sweating like pigs under our jackets, we set off to find it. It was not immediately obvious, so Oli left me in the cool of a shopping mall with our jackets and helmets, and went it alone. After an hour of searching, getting sent to the Ministry of Labour in error, and running all over the area, he eventually returned. Apparently by trip ticket the RTA had meant Carnet de Passage, which we already had. What a sweaty waste of a morning that was.
Back at our apartment, we rang around some more shipping companies, and started to make good progress. Shipping the bike to India is unaffordable, but sending it to Thailand is a lot cheaper (as we had discovered from Paul and Amy, another overlander couple ahead of us). We double checked this with one of the companies, and the rough quote for India almost made us choke. For this reason, the bike will be going solo to Bangkok, whilst we go to India and Nepal without it, then catch up with it again in a few weeks. Of course it is sad not to complete the trip on one bike, but this is definitely the most practical and affordable course of action.
Satisfied with the progress we were making on this, we carried on with our chores. Next on the list was getting rid of some of the things we no longer needed, and also sending our Iran presents to the parents. I was pleased to get rid of my Iran tunic, but kept the purple headscarf as it is useful for covering up my scruffy t-shirts when we go somewhere nice. We walked from our hotel to the post office, and although it was only about 20 minutes away by foot, it was a noticeably less fancy part of town. The post office experience was surprisingly easy, no more difficult to work out than the U.K. system. Feeling pleased with ourselves, it was time to get on with the tourist stuff.
Our destination for the evening was the Dubai Mall, easily reachable by Metro. Up until this point we had been frequenting the less touristy parts of the city, so it was a shock to get off the train and be confronted by hoardes of people making their way to the shops. The mall itself is a vast complex of shops, almost a city in itself. Compared to the quiet calm of Burjuman (albeit with more affordable shops) we didn't much care for it, but still enjoyed marvelling at the excess and spectacle of the place.
We went to take a quick look at the fountains, which are set to music with 'performances' every half hour. We just caught the end of one of the shows, which was pretty impressive. The lake providing the setting for the fountains is ringed by skyscrapers, dramatically lit and rising into the dark sky. We were pretty in awe of this, and wandered around for a while until our growling stomachs could no longer be ignored.
Just inside the main doors of the mall is a cafe / restaurant named The Social House, and it was here that we found ourselves for dinner. Whilst it was not a budget option, the choice of food was both varied and creative. We decided not to hold back, and had an incredible meal. The drinks we chose were made from roughly crushed watermelon, with fresh mint leaves and soda water, a very refreshing combination. I won't bore everyone with the full details of everything we ate, but my sushi starter was incredible – little rice rolls wrapped around delicate asparagus spear tempura. Delicious and addictive.
Before jumping back on the metro, we popped back outside for a final gawp at the lake and skyscrapers. The scale of Dubai is truly staggering, and we still couldn't quite believe the level of glittering excess. It had been a successful day, so we made the journey back home, looking forward to beginning our Oman adventure in the morning.