After a breakfast of olives, bread, tomatoes and some intense yogurt cheese called lebne, I headed to the local museum, not something that probably goes high on the list of things to do here, but in my opinion, an important part of gaining a perspective on this place.
There is archaeological evidence of settlements here back to 3000 B.C. and in the 16th century it was a center for pearl diving. But the beginnings of the city as its own entity really began in the 1800s. The city is divided by Dubai Creek and boat building became an important skill in the past. Bur Dubai and Deira are the two halves, and as you go west you’ll come to Jumeirah. It’s west of the creek that you’ll find most of the “new” and all of the architectural feats for which the city is gaining fame. World’s tallest building (already the title-holder, even though it is only ¾ complete!), the seven-star sail-like Burj al Arab hotel, the indoor ski slope at Mall of the Emirates, and the artificial islands of the Palm and a work-in-progress that resembles a map of the world. For traditional Dubai, you need to hang out around the creek, check out a shisha bar or a restaurant near the gold or spice souks, where Emirati families gather after sunset to socialize until 3 or 4 a.m. Definitely take a ride across the creek on one of the traditional water taxis called an arba.
Those who adore development will swoon at the sight of places farther west. That massive array of cranes is putting up loads of high rises, hotels and office complexes even as dozens of empty completed buildings stand all around them. Islands are being created by barges hauling stone. Islands made in the shape of the world map or giant palm fronds.
I stopped in at the Emirates Mall to check out the ski slope at Ski Dubai. It is indeed a sight to behold but it is only the world’s third largest. Patrons ski and snowboard down a slope with a dog leg, a total distance of about 1200 feet. German ingenuity (Siemens) and a whole lot of money made this happen. Think about that next time you fill up the tank. A second one, Dubai Sunny Mountain, is coming in Dubailand later in 2008.
My last activity for my time in Dubai was a caravan into the desert. No, this was not the camel riding excursions to a Bedouin camp that you might find in other desert countries in this area. Toyota Land Cruisers were the beasts of burden and a collection of 25 of them (often as many as 100), gathered at the edge of the sands outside Dubai before making a sort of roller coaster ride into the dunes on a meandering 4-wheel drive journey to a camp that offered a small carnival of activities: a shisha tent, a short sandboarding run, a camel to sit on for a photo, henna “tattoos”, dress like an Emirati booth (photos again) and a barbeque of pretty decent local grub. Authentic it was not, but the spinouts and plunges over the dunes in the Land Cruiser had their appeal as did the sunset.