Dubai and Muscat
Last week, I had a break from Wednesday through Monday for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Schools and work are closed all around Jordan, so it was the perfect opportunity to travel more in the region. Unfortunately, a lot of the countries neighboring Jordan are not particularly safe for travel right now, so I decided to head over to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Muscat in Oman with a group of students on my program.
Late Tuesday night, we all flew out to Dubai. We landed at around 2am and were shocked when we walked off the plane and it was hot. Don’t get me wrong, Jordan is very warm (especially in comparison to Madison) and the high has been around 80˚F or above even in October, but in Dubai, it was still really warm in the middle of the night. We headed over to our hotel to sleep, ready to see some of the cool sites in the city later that day.
We woke up still a little groggy, but ready to see Dubai. After breakfast, we took the hotel shuttle to Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world. It was huge and had every store imaginable, including American ones like Ralph Lauren, Victoria Secret, and even Uno’s Pizza from Chicago. While we didn’t do any real shopping, we spent a good amount of time in the mall seeing it’s various wings that included an aquarium and waterfall. I have been to big malls before, but nothing this huge or extravagant.
After, we headed to the observation deck in the Burj Khalifa, which is right next to the mall. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, dwarfing even the Sears Tower. Visitors can’t go all the way to the top but the observation deck is still the highest in the world. It was cool to see the mixture of sand, water, and really tall buildings that made up Dubai from that height. Afterwards, we wandered around the area a little before taking a shuttle back to our hotel.
When we reached our hotel, we decided we were hungry and asked the front desk for recommendations of restaurants for us that we could walk to from the hotel. We were given a list of American places that deliver (like Pizza Hut), but none of us wanted that so we decided to just walk out and explore. It was evident that this was a very different type of neighborhood than the glitzy ones we visited downtown. This area was populated mainly by the workers from South Asia who come to Dubai to make a living. There were not other tourists around, but we were able to find an Indian restaurant that was delicious and very cheap. It was interesting to see a different side of Dubai and get a reminder that not everyone there was fabulously wealthy. We returned to our hotel after and stayed up a little later than we should have considering we had an early bus to Muscat in the morning.
Bright and early on Thursday, we woke up and got in taxis to the bus station. We had been told by hotel staff that we didn’t need tickets for the bus, we just had to go about a half hour early and then we would be able to buy them there. This was incorrect. It seemed that because of the holiday, a lot more people were heading to Muscat than usual so the buses were full all day. We were sent to a taxi stand where we were able to rent two taxis to take the eight of us to Muscat. The taxi ride was quite an experience. Between the United Arab Emirates and Oman, we had to go through a series of border checks. My taxi driver was intent on getting us through as quickly as possible, and at all costs, so we were constantly following him as he looked for security he knew or nudged his way to the front of the line. His perseverance made us pass through the lines at record pace and we ended up at our hotel almost two hours before the other group. Although we were quite exhausted by the experience, our moods turned around when we got to a beach and had our first swim in the Arabian Sea.
The next day a few of us got up and went to see some of the famous sites in Muscat. We went to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque that was finished in 2001. We coldn’t go inside since it was a holiday, but the outside of the mosque was incredible.
We also checked out the Sultan’s Palace and looked at some forts in town, although we didn’t go into any. We ended up in a taxi whose driver drove us around trying to find us a good restaurant and show us some of the sites. He was very kind and comical as he shepherded us from one site to another, knocking on doors to see if places were open, and insisting we get out to take pictures. Finally, we headed to a private beach where we met the rest of the group for a relaxing day out in the sun. We had a great time trying camel burgers, laying in the sun, and splashing around in the water.
When it got late, we headed home and ate at another delicious Indian restaurant. We hung out at our hotel the rest of the night and I even learned how to play euchre.
The next morning, we headed back to Dubai by bus. This time, we were smarter and bought our tickets in advance. We also had set up a ride from our hotel to the bus station with the man who drove us home from the beach the day before. Unfortunately, he slept in and when we called him he said he couldn’t be there for an hour, which meant we would miss the bus. We were all about to panic (the hotel staff said it was too early to call other taxi services) when miraculously, three taxis showed up and agreed to take us. Although the price was fairly steep (taxis in Muscat are not metered like in Jordan, so you have to bargain) we made it to the bus station with time to spare.
The ride to Dubai was eventless (especially in comparison to the original trip to Muscat). We stayed in a different hotel, this time in Sharjah, which is a city right next to Dubai. After getting settled, we headed out to the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Islands, which are manmade islands in the shape of a palm tree. It was even more evident how rich Dubai was at the Atlantis. Even when we got taxis to go back to the city, there were no typical yellow ones but rather ostentatious silver Mercedes (which, although more expensive than regular taxis in Dubai, were still cheaper than what we paid in Oman for taxi rides).
We then headed back by the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall to see the fountain show that happens every night. It was really impressive, especially with the tallest tower in the world as the backdrop. Finally, we headed back to our hotel, ready for an early flight back to Amman.
The trip was really amazing, not least so because I got to experience Arab culture in a completely new context. Although both places we went to were gorgeous and fascinating, we all missed Jordan sometimes and realized it was beginning to feel like home. I really enjoyed seeing a little bit more of the Arab world, but I am happy to be back in Jordan where I know where things are and how I should speak and act. I saw some amazing sites, but I am also glad to go back to my routine in Jordan.