Oases in the Desert: Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Dubai. The spinning man. Photo by Eric D. Goodman
The spinning man. Photo by Eric D. Goodman

My Dubai

After such a filling meal, we were glad that the dune-pocked drive back to the road was not as wild as the dune-bashing ride to camp. We returned home using a slightly different route, allowing Khalid to use more road and less sand. Before long, the city lights were ahead of us, outlining an impressive skyline of record-breaking skyscrapers.

“This is my Dubai,” Khalid said. The cityscape grew larger and brighter the closer we came to it.

“There’s something to be said for the history,” the man from Sochi said. “My city was completely changed because of the Olympics. Some people can’t even afford to live in their homes anymore, because everything became so developed. It takes a lot of hard currency to make it where a working class man used to live.”

“But it is progress,” Khalid argued agreeably. “It’s nice to say we should still live in the desert like poor people. But we must look to our future.”

“The future is there,” I said, pointing to the bright lights of the big city. “It’s like Vegas on steroids.”

The man from Sochi chuckled. “But we also learned from the Olympics, steroids can get you in trouble.”

Nataliya chimed in. “In a way, it’s like the gentrification of a neighborhood. Some people love it, because it’s good for property values and development. Some people hate it, because it pushes out natives and draws a new population—the people who can afford it.”

I nodded. “Like, the wealthy are invading and taking over from the poor.”

Khalid shook his head. “It’s different here.” We were now within the city, bright lights towering all around us. “Here, the wealthy are the natives. Given a choice between camels and palm huts with wind towers, or Maserati and air-conditioned towers of glass and gold, anyone will take the latter.”

“I get it,” I said, sitting in the front seat next to our driver. “The history and culture is the most interesting thing when you’re exploring. But when it comes to daily life, everyone loves comfort and convenience.”

Khalid nodded, looking ahead at the world’s tallest building, and the world’s biggest dancing fountain beside it. “This is my Dubai. My future.”

Watching the spectacle, the enormous water display set to Arabic music, reflected in the mirrored surface of the Burj Khalifa, it was hard to believe less than an hour ago we were in the middle of the desert.

Despite the oasis around us, we were still in the middle of the desert. Both Dubais — the traditional Bedouin past and the glass and steel future — are Dubai. A city of contrast, to be sure — and unquestionably a city to be reckoned with.

If You Travel to Dubai

Dubai may have gotten rich off of oil, but several people we met in the city boasted that the city makes more money these days from tourism than oil — but that doesn’t mean one of the world’s richest cities has to be an expensive one. It can be, but if you go off the beaten path, you can find less touristy, more authentic, and more affordable options.

We flew Air Canada (on a United ticket), although from what I’ve heard Emirates Airlines is the best airline to take to Dubai if you can find a deal. Deals can be found online — we paid less than an average price from Washington DC to Paris or London.

You can find online deals on hotels, too. We stayed at the City Seasons Towers Hotel, which was conveniently located in Bur Dubai. We managed to find a rate just above 100 a night, for a decent sized, clean, comfortable room — with breakfast included.

The hotel’s location, on Khalifa Bin Zayed Road next to Burjuman Mall, was ideal, situated with Old Dubai and Dubai Creek on one side, and New Dubai and the Sheikh Zayed Road area on the other. We were a 45-minute walk away from the creek and a 15-minute metro ride away from the Burj Khalifa.  The Burjuman metro was just a three-minute walk away (half of that time waiting for a crosswalk light), and cost only a few dollars. Taxis tended to run around fifteen to twenty dollars.

Dubai’s metro is easy to follow and can get you from one edge of Dubai to the other. Take the metro to the general area, then a taxi to hone in on your target — that’ll save you taxi fare and also give you the experience of the metro, much of which is above ground, offering incredible, air-conditioned views of the city’s architecture, beaches, sunrises, and sunsets.

If You Travel to Abu Dhabi

For the trip from Abu Dhabi, there are a number of options, including train, public bus, and private coach. We opted for the latter, allowing us to get to the places we wanted to go with little effort.

Don’t forget your sunscreen, sun hats, sun glasses, and light, breathable clothing. When we went in early spring, temperatures ranged from 99 to 114. In summer months, be prepared for 130!

Finally, keep in mind that this is probably the safest, most westernized, and most modern city in the Middle East. Have no reservations — other that hotel and restaurant and tours — in deciding to visit United Arab Emirates.

Eric D. Goodman enjoys traveling as much as he loves writing. His fiction and travel stories have been published in many periodicals, including Go Nomad, InTravel Magazine, Go World Travel, Travel Mag, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Review, The Pedestal Magazine, The Potomac, Grub Street, Scribble Magazine, and others. Eric’s the author of the award-winning Tracks: A Novel in Stories about travelers who connect on a train, and Flightless Goose, a storybook for children. His newest book, Womb: a novel in utero was published this spring. Learn more about Eric and his work at www.EricDGoodman.com and connect with him at www.Facebook.com/EricDGoodman.