Sunday, January 25, 2015

Exploring Old Dubai

In the morning I checked out of the hotel/apartment place that I was staying and walked a few blocks and checked into a different hotel. There was a change of plans so it all makes sense. Trust me. The new hotel is way nicer and in a way more interesting area so I'm happy about it. It's called the Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa, and it's right across the street from the Dubai Museum, which was convenient.

There are pictures of sheikhs everywhere in Dubai. 

This hotel is much nicer than the previous place.

Not only was the hotel nice but it was located very close to my next tour. I signed up for another couple of experiences with the same group that ran the Jumeirah Mosque tour from yesterday. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is pretty awesome.

The first tour was in the Al Fahidi District, which is sort of a historical neighborhood that shows what life was like in Dubai before it started raining oil.

The woman standing right behind our guide has a blonde wig. Fine. It's been in so long though that her curly brown hair is growing out from under it. An emergency intervention needs to happen. Bleh.

This was interesting. Our guide asked the audience why we thought there was a little door inside of the big one. I blurted "you use the little door to keep the camels out?" Everyone thought that was funny. But she went all mind judo on me and said "no, the little door is to keep the camels in". Head explosion. These houses have atriums with plain sand floors on the inside with a shade tree growing in the center.

Many of the buildings had duel purposes. This one was also an ancient coin museum.

We got another mosque peek in, and talked about some more Islam topics. Some people's questions were pretty good. Old weird wig's questions were bad.

One fun Islam fact I learned is that in UAE the government chooses the topic for the day and then that's what every imam in the country gives a sermon about.

Another of the topics that came up more than once was polygamy. There was a pretty reasonable sounding explanation for this. One part of it was that it was for war torn areas where there are lots of widows with children. If men just gave these women money out of charity then they would be improperly dependent on those men, and would have no rights. But if they became an additional wife then they had all of the rights that come with marriage including inheritance and so forth. I liked many of their answers to subjects that would normally be alien to westerners. That being said, I was present for three different versions of these talks, and it became clear that some explanations were scripted. So that raises suspicion a bit. It was a good talk regardless.

Back at headquarters we had some coffee and dates. The coffee comes with lots of spices in it. Cardamom, saffron, and other fancy sounding spices were present.

This is probably my favorite way of covering one's face, but apparently in the UAE it's really only older generations that wear it. It looks like metal but it's shiny leather. I always thought all of the burkas and scarves were religious but it sounds more complicated than that, and that it's really more of a culture thing. Multiple guides have said that when they travel in other countries they dress Western so as to not attract attention. One girl has a friend from the royal family, and when they went to the mall together the royal would wear the full veil thing so as not to be recognized.

There was a brief intermission.

Then many of the same people from the tour gathered back at headquarters for lunch. All of these experiences have been really open and full of question and answer exchanges. I'm really glad I did that because now I understand a lot more about their religion and culture, and it also breaks the tourist "take pictures but learn nothing" routine.

This guide was probably my favorite because she was a college student, seemed a lot warmer, and most importantly had an American accent.

The food was solid but there wasn't anything crazy. Lot's of rice mixed with vegetables and meat that she compared to paella.

Dessert was a bit different but still pretty understandable: fried dough balls with sweet sauce translates pretty well anywhere.

Nice smelling incense at the end was the cue to get the heck out.

That was all I really had set in stone for the day, so from then on it was ad lib.

The Dubai Museum is contained by a cool old fort. It wasn't the best musuem ever but it cost less than a dollar to get in so I call that a win.

The hotel area was right next to a river and on the near side was the clothing souk and on the far side was the gold souk, the spice souk, and you know, some souks. Souk means market. Clearly I needed to get across this river in an awesome fashion. Well there are these old little wooden boats they call an abra that will ferry you across the river for 1 dirham. 1 dirham is like 27 cents. Really if any human offers to provide a service for 27 cents you need to accept.

I had the honor of sitting next to the jerry rigged rope and pulley rudder setup which was pretty scary. It's all fun and games until someone loses an arm on a 30 cent boat ride.

We passed nicer boats which must have cost at least... 54 cents to ride.

I was excited to explore these cool markets which were architecturally awesome and colorful while kind of dark and mysterious. Well I took like two steps into one and some guy shoved a headress thing on my head and corralled me into his shop. Oh, so it's going to be that sort of game eh? Creepers.

The gold souk was just brimming with gaudy jewelry shops. I don't really understand the logic of having 100 of the same shop in the same place. I feel like that level of competition is why I had to dodge hats being forcibly put on my head from strangers all day.

There were signs everywhere with the latest gold prices on them.

The spice souk was awesome I just don't want the U.S. customs beagles to get me at the airport.

Well tomorrow I had a couple of excursions planned. It's my last day in Dubai, and I thought it would be cool to see some camel races, and to do some sort of desert tour. Well I had the concierge call the camel racetrack, and I was correct that there were races scheduled for tomorrow. Unfortunately the races have been postponed for a few days out of respect for the recently deceased King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Great. I continued on to inquire about the tour I was hoping to catch. Nope, it's cutting too close to my flight time. Ok. How about this other day trip? Nope, you need at least two people. Curses!

So my actually fairly well planned out last day in Dubai was coming crashing down. You know something that I like to do, when I'm feeling blue, is sit down and count to ten. And then have a camel steak. So that's what I did.

There's nothing like that beefish but way more fibrous and chewy camel meat experience to help me put small setbacks into perspective. At least I'm not a dead goofy looking desert horse, am I right?

I stopped on the way back to the hotel for some strange looking Indian treat called jalebi.

I've seen these before somewhere and have wanted to try them. They are pretty weird. Sticky, sweet, and kind of citrusy.

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