27 December 2012


I had about 20 minutes left in my flight from Singapore when my flight to Dulles started boarding. It was at that moment that I realized that I would not be making my connection and I was faced with an emotional dilemma: I was bummed that I would miss a day with my best friend, Katie, and also bummed that I would miss my chillax, eat-what-I-want-when-I-want-and-take-naps-all-day day, but I was also completely content with having a layover in Dubai, though I did not know how long that layover would be.

I was convinced that I would miss my connection, but I knew I had to do all I could to fight for my flight. My airline seat was located in the second row so I knew I had a shot.When I exited the jetway and entered the passenger waiting area, a dozen Emirates employees were standing to either side of a man-made aisle, shouting city names. I found the woman yelling “Washington D.C.” and she advised me to stand at the side.

Was she going to escort me to the gate? Were they going to hold the plane for me? Was I really going to make my connection after all?

No. She led me around the corner, down the hall and to the transit desk, where I was advised that there was only one flight to D.C. a day and I had officially missed mine. “I can get you on the flight at the same time tomorrow,” the woman advised. “O.K., I will probably do that, but let me call my friend first.”

So I crouched against a wall, hooked up my laptop, downloaded the appropriate updates and called Katie through my Google Voice app. I looked up the next flight to New York area airports and guestimated the time I would likely land in D.C., which would have been Friday late afternoon, putting us in prime week-ending NoVa traffic. We both decided it would be best to wait for the next D.C. flight. I spoke with the attendant about collecting my checked bag, verified with six other people how to get my bag, and then made my way to the airline-provided hotel. Let's just say I really needed that checked bag.

At first I was disappointed that the hotel wasn’t downtown, but my thoughts later changed when I experienced the hotel. There were several restaurants, the location was within minutes of anywhere I needed to go, taxis waited outside and I had an amazing suite on the 23rd of 24 floors.

Then came the ultimate dilemma: do I sleep, because I really need to since I only slept a couple hours on the flight, or do I make this 24 hours, quoting Barney Stinson, “legendary!”?

I opted for the latter.

By 4:30 a.m. local time, I had checked into my suite. I would be checking out at midnight.

The kitchen that I never intended to use was four times the size of my own.

The living and dining room areas were cozy.

The bathroom was beautiful.
The bathtub had its own room and, yes, that is a phone next to the toilet

The only things I did not understand were why the bathroom was by the front door, in the complete opposite corner from the bedroom, and why in the Middle East I cannot ever get a hot shower. I had the same issue in Qatar in the airport lounge...twice.

I had two balconies with nice views. However, I was not able to actually enjoy the views from my balconies. I was, instead, greeted by a sticker above the door latch that read something like, “For safety reasons, the balcony doors are locked. If you would like to have access to the balcony, please make arrangements with housekeeping.” Really? Do people frequently jump from the 23rd floor?

Oh well. I began my day with a short nap and my complementary breakfast in one of the hotel restaurants. Since I had not received my checked bag, which I was told several times would be delivered to my hotel and was assured would be there by noon, I took a chance, hailed a cab and went to the Dubai Mall in order to find some non-airplane clothes to wear just in case.

The mall was massive, as most are, but this one included an extra-special treat. Hosting more than 1,200 stores, the Tiffany Diamond on display and an aquarium with a giant sting ray floating around the mall atrium, you would be pleased to know that I did find a pair of jeans and two light-weight sweaters.

So, the first accomplishment: I shopped in the world’s largest mall by area and I saw a giant sting ray.

Paul arranged for me to meet a fellow pilot with whom he previously met in Singapore. Tim has lived in Dubai for 10 years and currently works for Emirates Airlines. He was kind enough to take a few hours out of his day to show me around Dubai, old and new.

I was advised that I was staying in Bur Dubai, called Old Dubai, the city’s historic area consisting of the oldest buildings and most traditional features.

Most businesses were closed as it was Friday, an observed holy day; the streets were practically empty.

We passed by a mosque during Friday afternoon prayer.

A body of water locally known as “the creek” hosted walking areas, water taxis in the form of old wooden long boats and floating restaurants.

Although the wood boats will take two dozen passengers from one side of the creek to another for about a Dubai dollar, we were able to rent a boat and take a 30-minute ride down one side and back.

These boats, according to Tim, are used to trade metals and spices with other tradesmen on open waters...might not be legal

Here I am posing with UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his son

We took a drive along the coast and took a short drive along the trunk of Palm Island.

All of these cream-colored buildings are condos

The view from the bridge

On the left, the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel and, in the middle, the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa

New York may be cool as the original home of the Chrysler Building but Dubai has two similar structures

A newer neighborhood

Views like this make me think that Dubai is just surreal

The black structure on the right is a station in Dubai's train system

When we finished our drive, I returned to the hotel, hoping that I could grab a quick bite before my desert tour. Earlier in the day I was looking through the hotel manual, trying to figure out if a hair dryer was included in my room. (Side note: I did find the hair dryer in the bathroom, I just didn’t realize it was a hair dryer until the front desk man told me it was that thing attached to the wall. Picture a white box with a vacuum hose attached. I wasn’t sure if it was a steamer or a vacuum.)

While perusing the book, I saw a short write-up on a desert tour, so I inquired, talked to Paul about the potential booking and then registered with guest services to reserve a spot. Around 3:30, a man in a Toyota Land Cruiser picked me up, along with five others spaced around town. Included in the vehicle were three Indian-born people, a couple living in nearby Abu Dhabi and their uncle from Princeton, New Jersey. We bonded over our New Jersey connections; Paul and I lived outside of Princeton two years before moving to Singapore.

The family adopted me that afternoon and guided me to try many amazing things for the first time. We started our tour by driving approximately 30 minutes outside of Dubai, to the desert near Oman. We pulled onto the sand, let the air out of the tires and then we were off – off-roading through the desert, over the dunes, sliding sideways at times, in a caravan of white Land Cruisers.

We drove for a while and then stopped for photos, drove on again and then stopped for a few photos. When the sun began to set, we found our way back to the main road and set off for another location. On the way, I saw something that made me gasp and had my jaw as far as it could possibly drop. I saw an older man walking along the road. He was wearing the traditional long, white, linen dress called a kandura, and wearing a red hat. He held a leash in his hand and guided a large, tan-colored camel behind him. Yeah, he was just leading a camel down the road as we blew by him.

We made our way to another desert area where a camp was set up, again in the middle of the desert. Before we entered we were greeted by two men and their four camels, which we could touch and, yes, ride. I jumped at the opportunity since, before that day, I had not seen a camel outside of a zoo.

The experience was unreal. It took all of my flexibility to get one leg over the camel’s hump. When I was situated, straddled with my legs just dropping at a 30-degree angle, I held tight and prepared for the jolt up. When the leader gave the command, the camel raised the front legs, paused and then raised the back legs a few seconds later. The effect was like severe airplane turbulence – it was rocky. The rider was uncomfortable for me, so I am sure it would not be pleasant for men, but I was glad I had the experience. When we parked, I again prepped myself for the drop down. Just as before, when given the command, the camel just dropped to the ground, front legs first, nearly throwing me over the camel’s head even though I knew what was coming. A few seconds later, the back legs dropped and we hit the ground with a thud.

This camel blew kisses instead of spit

When we entered into the camp, we were greeted with tea and fruit. We also had an opportunity to pose with a white falcon.

Huts lined the camp, each with a different theme. A few huts offered touristy gifts, one offered falafels, Arabic tea and fresh dates. One hut offered kanduras and abayas for people to try on and photograph while another offered henna designs. Several large grills were lit and men were grilling chicken pieces and beef kabobs; one man made flatbread; a bar was located in the hut to the right and a buffet area was located to the left.

We ate beef, chicken, rice, salad, vegetables and fruit on low tables, seated on pillows on top of rugs on the ground. In the center of the camp was a stage where two performers entertained us throughout the evening. The air was chilled after dark and I was really wishing I had a hoodie.

My new friend and I made our way to the henna tent and waited quietly for our turn to be inked by likely the meanest woman in the Middle East. She ordered people around, gave eye-piercing looks and yelled when anyone entered the hut to watch her craftsmanship. She. Was. Awful. But she did a good job and I was amazed at how quickly she painted on my skin.

The flower design was pleasing for my first ink job and I was so excited to later share with friends where I received my skin art.

Before we left, we were treated with a belly dancing show. Though bummed that the girl had dyed her hair blonde and saddened that she looked more like a stripper than a traditional belly dancer, we were all amazed by the way she could move.

I was absolutely thrilled to have experienced so much in one day, but I was definitely ready to check back in to my hotel and relax a little before heading back to the airport. To recap, I had my first trip to Dubai, my first passport stamp from a Middle Eastern country, shopped in the world’s largest mall, experienced my first camel ride, my first desert dune bashing adventure, my first date (fruit), my first henna tattoo, and then I flew back to America…and I did it all without underpants. Why? Because the airline never delivered my checked bag, even though I spoke with eight people and requested with the hotel front desk on four occasions to verify when my bags would be delivered. And nothing. I never got my bag.

I did eventually get my checked bag, in D.C. when I landed. I was able to coordinate with a ticket agent and the gate staff to ensure that my bag got on the plane with me. Fifteen hours later, I was with my friends in D.C. enjoying true American goodness. 

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