So now that I'm back in New York and in the full swing of school and my day to day life, my summer travels seem like already distant memories. But it was just a few weeks ago that I found myself sitting on a ski lift, pondering how it was that I was freezing cold and losing feeling in my fingertips despite being in the middle of the desert. Welcome to Dubai.
Now some have already noted that Dubai and Turkey aren't exactly on the way home from Nicaragua - but when you have a once in a life time opportunity to visit a friend who is working in Dubai for the summer (and can offer a free place to stay to boot) - you make an exception. Given all the things I had seen and read about the explosive growth of the most famous of the United Arab Emirates, I was surprised upon my first view to see how spread out it was. My friend MJ and I both commented that we expected it to be more dense - but then again, it is in the middle of a desert, and so has room to be a little more spread out than Manhattan. When we later ventured into the heart of downtown and saw close up the hundreds of cranes in every direction it was more in line with the images I had seen - but on first impression, I was surprised.
Granted, our first trip through downtown was en route to the real desert - several miles outside of "town" where we went for our desert safari adventure - which basically consisted of about 100 white Land Rovers flying up and over sand dunes at ridiculous speeds. My friends thought this was highly entertaining - I thought it was terrifying and was convinced we were going to flip (having twice spun out in SUVs that someone else was driving, it was an all too familiar sensation). I think the rest of the group got as much enjoyment out of laughing at me as they did from the actual ride.
This video doesn't really do it justice, but will give you an idea: http://www.new.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=34961290850
The safari ended with a desert dinner, complete with a belly dancing show. Considering it was an entirely tourist contrived event, it was actually a great dinner, though perhaps not an authentic Bedouin experience.
While we were lucky enough to spend most of our nights at Anthony's apartment, he was also able to get us a great rate on one night at the super swanky Madinat Jumeirah hotel complex, which is really a series of four interconnected hotel properties. Our room was in a lovely villa style building that was connected to the main buildings by a series of canals and walkways. But, we were only a short golf cart away from the Burj Al Arab Hotel, the famous "seven star" hotel that looks like a sail and is one of Dubai's most prominent landmarks. The interesting thing about the Al Arab is that despite its beautiful and modern exterior - inside its like a bad version of a cheap Vegas hotel combined with the I Dream of Genie set. The architect's daughter in me was dismayed to see such a clash of good architecture with bad interior style - but nonetheless it manages to be one of the more expensive hotels in the world. On our budget we only made it as far as the bar - where a $150/person minimum made even that hard to swallow!
An additional perk of the hotel was that it gave us free reign the next day to the adjacent waterpark. Now I can't remember the last night I was on a water slide, but I'll have to say, it was pretty fun. The highlight was a new system of "rides" which use jet propulsion to push you up a series of slides on an inner tube. So instead of the traditional slide where you climb up a lot of stairs before taking the slide down - in Dubai you get to ride up and down.
And this brings me back to the ski slope where I found myself later that night. In a continuing theme of taking things to extremes, Dubai also has an indoor ski slope located inside of a shopping mall. This isn't like the little conveyor belt system that the Oshman's Sports Store had to help Texans get ready for the slopes when I was a kid. This is a full on ski slope with a lift chair and snow. For around $60 you get all of the equipment and clothes and a two hour pass to go up and down the lift. After a while of going down the same two runs I suppose the novelty did wear off a bit - until I remembered that I was in the middle of a desert. The skiing itself is pretty real, as Anthony can tell you as he managed to crack a rib while trying to learn to snowboard (in a shopping mall!). It was definitely a trip - especially because at the bottom of the run you could see through the windows into the rest of the mall - and the local TGI Fridays. Who knows what Dubai will come up with next, though lots of new developments are under way, but I'm sure it will manage to be even bigger and better and more extreme!