A few weekends back, I had the opportunity to go to Dubai. It was put together by the Paki and was basically an excuse for him to skip a day of work to attend one of the England vs. Pakistan* cricket matches, but it was a surprisingly good trip.
*Because of the safety concerns for players and fans, but more so because no foreign teams are actually willing to play in the country, Pakistan plays all its home games in Dubai.
We set out from Dammam early Wednesday afternoon hoping to avoid the weekend rush over the Causeway to Bahrain. Not having thought about it, the recent uptick in protests and rioting in and around the capital city of Manama meant that only specific groups of people were being let into the country. It basically amounts to non-Shia Saudis, Westerners, and Third Country Nationals with high level job certifications (like the Paki). Considering that’s still a considerable amount of people, and that it usually takes several hours just to get through customs, we ended up pulling up to a bar near the airport in Manama a little over an hour after we left. It was a good start to the weekend.
Joining myself and the Paki on this trip were Girl and one of the Paki’s coworkers, who I’ll be referring to as Frisbee because his only really distinguishing feature is his unusual love of all things Frisbee. He’s an American from upstate New York and is an all around nice guy. Best of all, he enjoys many of my favorite weekend activities, like sitting around drinking and talking in low key bars, and not acting like overly dramatic, bratty, childish Aramcons.
Bahrain International Airport
After barely making our flight because of a few too many pitchers at a dive called Ric’s, we landed in Dubai around midnight, stopped at the duty free, and headed to our hotel. It was much farther from the airport than any of us realized, and it was centered squarely in the middle of the incredibly large industrial port and shipyard area. We ended up not being too bothered by this, and had a late night drinking in our hotel room.
The next day we roused ourselves for lunch in the Gold Souq, the touristy bazaar type marketplace in downtown Dubai. We bought a few souvenirs and after a while stumbled upon an Afghani restaurant to have lunch. The Paki was able to get us much more than any normal group of naïve white westerners would normally have been able to, and subsequently lunch was amazing. The Paki’s family originates from northern Pakistan, and his tribe has historically extended across vast portions of Afghanistan. He speaks Pashto, the more common language of Afghanistan, as well as Urdo, the more common language of Pakistan. He has a habit of talking a bit more than he should, but he’s a good person to have around because of it.
The Gold Souq
Common souvenirs. Very classy.
Hidden gem of a lunch spot.
After lunch we met up with another one of the Paki’s friends and spent the afternoon drinking in our hotel. We had made ambitious plans to explore many of the beach areas, but after an unexpected three mile walk from the metro station nearest to the hotel on the way back from the souq, we decided we’d had enough and settled on the busy views of the shipyard. It’s interesting to watch the different ways things are built and it’s comforting to know that the vast majority of the things that make the world go round are built in less than perfect conditions by under paid workers with as little oversight, safety concern, and quality assurance as economically possible.
Later that evening, we hailed a cab and drove for an hour before we reached the cricket stadium. It’s a fairly straightforward drive, but, like everywhere else in Arabia, the little details that make things run smoothly are largely overlooked. The cricket stadium is massive and fairly modern, but it sits in the middle of the desert miles outside the city. They built the stadium and a single road leading to it, but there are no parking facilities of any kind, and the road literally ends at the stadium. It creates a traffic nightmare and we were lucky enough to be a part of it. The cab dropped us off about a mile away from the stadium just after sunset, and we walked with a massive crowd of people over sand dunes and flimsy wooden fences. It was our own little exodus across an ocean of sand, and we probably would have been much more upset about it had we not all been more than a little tipsy.
The Cricket Stadium
The match itself was fun, but I don’t follow cricket, was a little too drunk to make sense of what was going on in any significant detail, and we ended up seated at the edge of the International Section (where beer is sold) surrounded by die hard Pakistan Fans who have some very loud and very shrill chants. We made the best of it, and five hours after it began we repeated our desert exodus to the highway to fetch a cab.
The next day we woke up feeling a little worse for wear, and decided that all we really wanted to do was see the view from the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa. We ended up wandering around the Mall of Dubai, which sits next to the Burj and is where you go to gain access to the observation deck. Seeing as we didn’t plan ahead, we would’ve had to wait four days before the next available opening, so we wandered around the Dubai Aquarium instead. The mall itself is pretty impressive, but the layout is overly confusing and the sheer volume of stores is overwhelming. I’m not much for shopping on vacations, but it was fun to people watch in such an unusual place. We walked around the manmade lake underneath the Burj, watched the fountain show, and had a late lunch at a nice Indonesian restaurant.
One of the many massive fountains inside the Mall of Dubai.
The penguin exhibit at the Dubai Aquarium.
Not really sure whats going on.
We decided to take the metro to the airport, and only then did we realize it was another long walk to the nearest station. After arriving at the wrong terminal, hailing a cab and speeding through traffic, we managed to get our tickets as the counter was shutting down, barely made it through customs and boarded the plane at the last minute. We were the people everyone had to wait at the gate for, and there was a lovely atmosphere walking down the aisle to our seats behind the wings. Adding to everyone’s friendly mood, the flight to Bahrain was quite shaky. The dust storms that have started popping up around the region make the wind patterns unstable and we flew through turbulence for the entire length of the trip. Once we landed, everyone was very pleased to be leaving the plane.
We landed in Bahrain just after dark, made it through customs with relative ease, and were back at our compound by ten. We found out the next day that several people that the Paki and Frisbee work with who landed shortly after us were detained in Bahrain, deported to Saudi, and are not allowed back. There’s an ongoing crackdown on Westerners who get involved in or make critical observations of the political situation happening there. Most of this is from monitoring internet activity, and it happens frequently here in Saudi as well. Hence the aliases and general lack of photos of people's faces on this blog.
All in all it was a good trip. Unnecessarily exhausting, but good. At some point I hope to get back to Dubai to actually visit the Burj and actually enjoy the beach, but in any case, at least I’ve had some memorable experiences.