Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jail Break

Day three and we make a break for it. We knew the ship holds a hundred or so, but as we are on a university study trip, we assumed we’d have lectures as our small group, go off just us twenty to see the sights. Wrong. Today all of us are scheduled to see an Arab Village - a tourist village, a re-creation not the real thing. Why does not begin to cover it. 
The afternoon delights boggle the imagination, and are presented with great enthusiasm: a visit to a Formula One track. No cars, no race, just the track. Wait, it gets better. Followed by a visit to a theme park that will have all the sights of the world: Paris, Venice, the pyramids of Egypt. When it’s finished. In 2030. Call me then and I’ll think about it.
Apparently we’re not the only ones discontented, and we have fomented a palace coup. There is a heated meeting in a lounge, a bit of a scramble. They can get us into today’s Mosque after all, not be just photos from the parking lot. We agree to try the morning’s events.
First stop: A fish market, cool and clean. I have only seen fish this fresh at the end of my line, and they are beautiful. Most fish markets are smelly and none too clean - this is hospital clean. Here they fish early, eat it for lunch - remember  there was no refrigeration, so no fish dinners. 

Hamoor, grouper - my favorite. We see:
Blue crabs
Fat tuna
black and white lobster
And Sultan Ibrahim has clearly had better days.
A mosque that holds 40,000 people, made of white marble from India. 

Women have to don traditional garb to enter, and I have found anonymity again. I understand just a little what it must be like to be a woman here. We look like Dementors from Harry Potter. It is hard to walk.
Past and present
The world’s largest chandelier, the world’s largest carpet. 
Our Abu Dahbi Guide: All the superlatives are in Dubai...except the cheapest. Yeah, and this mosque.
The local guide says Muslims are allowed four wives, but you must treat them all equally. “Do they live together or does each wife have her own house?”
“Each her own house. We say you cannot have two swords in one sheath.”
Sounds more like one sword in four sheaths to me.
80% of the people in the Emirates are imported workers. The locals get $67,000 per year each from oil revenues and don’t have to work. There’s no unemployment, you just send the imported workers home when the jobs go away. 
The sheik of Dubai knows the oil will run out, so he’s betting on tourism and a tax haven for rich folk. And an end to the global recession. The jury is still out. Abu Dhabi has so much money they are not concerned. Yet. We joke that it’s no longer Dubai, it’s Don’t Buy.
In Abu Dhabi the wealth is too much to digest. 
Palaces everywhere, larger and more opulent than the fanciest resort hotels I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff. A hotel that cost $2 billion to build, The Emirates Palace Hotel. We book for lunch and abandon the others at the Arabian Village. Seriously, we are IN Arabia - why go to a theme park when we are in the thick of the real thing?
In this incredibly opulent hotel we go thru an airport style screening right inside the door. It’s cheesy, it doesn’t fit with all the luxury, and at lunch it all makes sense. On the terrace two (empty) tables over are generals, admirals, more stars, gold braid, gold anchors and fancy uniforms than I’ve ever seen. They give us the once over, then ignore us. There is a defense fair going on. Everyone’s shopping for the latest in weapons. It’s weird to see helicopters over the mosque.
We have lunch on an opulent terrace overlooking a mile long white sand beach - sand imported from Algeria, local version not up to snuff. Brightly decorated camels are led by, red tassels swinging. No one is swimming on the turquoise water. The beach is nearly deserted.
The desserts are sprinkled with gold leaf. 
The restrooms are palace worthy. We wander around and realize the hotel is empty. Maybe the Princes and generals want privacy, but it’s high season and except for a Japanese tour group and a whole bunch of snappily uniformed staff, the place is deserted.
The car that is to take us back to the ship can’t get into the port. We sort that out and discover we don’t actually know where the ship is. Oops. The port is huge, and we realize everything - all the stuff to build the hotels, the palaces, all the armaments for sale, every pane of glass in every high rise has to come in thru the port. 
A young man in a car stops to help us - security? and helpfully says “Maybe that ship hasn’t come in yet.” We assure him it was here this morning when we got off, and eventually he finds it. Whew.

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