Dubai… Worst. Vacation. Ever.

Every 28 days, I have to leave Bahrain since I’m only here on a visitor’s visa. As my 28 days were up, this past weekend, we decided to head to Dubai for four days and three nights. It turned into a four days and three nights I could’ve done without.

To start out, both Josh and I were fighting a stomach virus the week before we left Bahrain and were still recovering from the tail end of the bug during the trip to Dubai. Our flight was early, leaving Bahrain at 7:15, but was only an hour long. It was the most turbulent flight I have ever been on and, of course, I got pretty air sick. Not a great start to the day.

After we landed, we took a car down to Abu Dhabi to Ferrari World, the world’s largest indoor theme park. They have the world’s fastest roller coaster there and, of course, Josh and I both LOVE roller coasters. Thankfully I slept a bit in the car and was feeling better after arriving at the park and having a bite to eat.

Unfortunately, not only was the park SUPER lame, but the fastest roller coaster in the in the world that for which we specifically went to Ferrari World was closed. And not just closed for an hour or so, but for the entire day. Basically we paid a lot of money for a really small car show (there were Ferrari’s strategically placed throughout the park).

During our drive back to Dubai, we hit the worst traffic I have ever sat in. Worse than SoCal, worse than Atlanta, worse than NYC, Boston or DC.  An hour and a half drive took five hours. The traffic started during the last half hour of the drive, so I guess it is more accurate to say a half an hour drive took four hours. I ended up fighting a second wind of motion sickness during the drive. Fantastic.

The best part of the trip: the hotel. When we FINALLY arrived at the hotel, we were blessed with a pleasant man checking us in. He took pity on us an upgraded us to a suite. We crashed after a very long, very stressful, very disappointing day.

Day two started well. Woke up, had breakfast, and headed to the metro station so we could go to the Mall of the Emirates for the day. Well, on Fridays the Metro doesn’t open until 1:00 pm, so we had to take a cab instead. We spent some time at the mall, walked around in awe of the size of the place, and then headed back towards the hotel. I had booked a desert safari for Friday night with SUV rides through the desert at sunset, camel rides, henna tattoos, belly dancing show and a traditional Arabian dinner in the desert, pick up and drop off at our hotel included. The company, Arabian Adventures, that I had booked with was rated the highest onTripadvisor. We received an email confirmation and I double checked with a phone call to confirm the pick up location. I’m sure that if we had actually gotten to go on the tour it would’ve been great, but they never showed up to pick us up. After waiting for them for an hour, sitting on hold with the Arabian Adventures representative and then arguing with them that yes, it was their fault that they didn’t come pick us up (apparently the car had gone to a completely different hotel that was only a mile from where we were staying and didn’t bother to call our cell phone when we weren’t in the lobby waiting for them) and insisted on a refund.

We returned to our hotel room while I pouted, cried, and threw a mild temper tantrum. Josh went to work finding something else for us to do for the evening and decided on heading to the Dubai Mall at the base of the Burj Khalifa, the World’s Tallest Building, to visit the World’s Largest Aquarium. We took lots of pictures of lots of fish.

After standing in line for a taxi, we headed back to the hotel. The icing on the cake: our cab driver tried to take us for a ride. I told him we weren’t going to pay the entire fare because he wasn’t taking us where we told him to take us despite my directions. He yelled at me. I yelled at him. He yelled back. Josh yelled at him and told him either we weren’t going to pay the entire fare, or he could take us to the police station. He said he was headed to the police station. Well, he didn’t know where the police station was either (how he got a job as a taxi driver, I’ll never know) and we drove past our hotel “on the way.” When he realized  he had passed our hotel, he tried to reconcile with us. We told him to stop the car, paid him a portion of the fair, and got out. We flagged down another cab and finally made it back to our hotel.

The next morning we decided to sleep in after the roller coaster of the day before. Unfortunately, we slept in a little too late and had to make a decision: day at the water park or dinner at the top of the Burj. We chose the water park. Big mistake. The organization of the park was very poor. Their locker system didn’t work. It was a zoo. And as soon as the sun started to go down, it was too cold for any of the big slides- standing up at the top of the towers was torture. We left the park and went to the movies. We say Olympus Has Fallen. God Bless America. After this trip, I have never been more grateful for the USA…

In addition to the misfortune we occurred while in Dubai, I did not have good experiences with the people. I was constantly ogled, pushed around (literally), and disrespected. I’ve never experienced a place where the people living there are so rude. If all of our plans had fallen apart but the people had been nice, I would probably give Dubai another chance.

Thankfully the next day we flew back to Bahrain. I will say it is much easier for me to get through customs when I’m with Josh and his handy dandy government passport and visa. They almost forgot to charge me BD5 for my visitor’s visa.

All in all, I will not be returning any time soon unless I have a REALLY good reason.

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Culture Shock; it’s not what I expected

Over my first few days here, Josh took me around to the common places of the island like the Navy base, the grocery store, our gym, etc.

We live in Amwaj, the man made islands at the Northeastern corner of Bahrain that were basically built specifically for westerners. It is the only part of Bahrain where you will see women wearing bikinis (and I did, yesterday; they were sitting by the pool while I was on the treadmill).

Amwaj Islands Northeastern Corner of Bahrain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of Bahrain is VERY westernized, especially Amwaj. Every sign is in either both Arabic and English, or just English. Advertisements use photos of caucasians. Women will be dressed in anything from jeans and a stylish blouse, to full a niqab which leaves just the eyes and hands uncovered. I have not, however, seen any other red heads.

Even though the country is the most westernized of the Middle Eastern countries (so they say- I haven’t been to any others except for my brief layover in Kuwait and Bahrain is definitely more westernized than Kuwait), whenever I am out in town I am painfully aware of how different I look from the rest of the residents in Bahrain. Even though Bahrain is heavily saturated with ExPats from Europe and Australia, not to mention the large military community with service members and contractors from all over the world, red hair, blue eyes and fair skin are far and few between. In some parts of town, I regularly catch people staring at me with puzzled looks on their faces. When I catch a woman staring, she is quick to look away. But when I catch the eyes of a man staring at me, he holds my gaze with a terse look on his face and I quickly look away as though I were the one who was caught staring. Even though I am looked at as a strange and foreign creature, the looks were not offensive. The staring made me feel mildly uncomfortable, but not in danger. And let’s be honest, if any of you saw a woman dressed in a burqa walking down the street in your home town, you’d probably stare too.

Yesterday while Josh was at work, I walked down to the lagoon for lunch and to pick up a few things from the grocery store. While I was waiting for my meal, I found myself captivated by a little boy and his sister sitting with their parents a few tables over. The boy was about three and a half years old, his little sister a year younger than he. The two children were playing around the restaurant’s patio while their parents looked on and ate their lunch. They were a traditional Muslim family, the matriarch dressed in a full abaya. The little sister was CLEARLY in charge of her older brother. He would follow her around, dance for her, and obey her instructions diligently. “Sit!” she said. And by golly, he SAT! “Here!” she said. And he galloped after her. I couldn’t help but laugh at how easy going the little boy was and how strong and independent the little girl was. With her pig tails falling out and shoes untied, she was not stopping for anybody!!

I know that the culture here in the Middle East is patriarchal, and women do not have as many rights as men. But, as I wrote earlier, I have never felt objectified because of my gender, and I have witnessed women living as women, girls living as girls, laughing together, living together, enjoying each other without fear of the man standing over them.

I made it to Bahrain!

After 30 hours of travel, I made it to Bahrain for an extended visit with my husband.

For those of you who don’t know, Bahrain is an itty bitty island in the Persian Gulf, just East of Saudi Arabia (there is a bridge that connects the two countries), North West of Qatar, and across the gulf from Iran.

Bahrain in the Persian Gulf

Bahrain in the Persian Gulf

The night before I was scheduled to fly out, I made an effort to stay up all night (except for a quick two hour nap between 2:30 am and 4:30 am). I wanted to make sure I was EXHAUSTED when I finally arrived so adjusting to the 11 hour time difference wouldn’t be as difficult.

My first flight from San Diego to Washington DC went quickly- I slept through the whole flight. The longest part of the journey was the 7 hour layover in Dulles airport. It was supposed to be 6 hours, but my flight from San Diego to DC landed early. Until then, I had never been disappointed to land ahead of schedule. The second leg of my journey was an 11.5 hour  flight from DC to Kuwait. Once again, I slept through most of the flight, waking up with only an hour and a half until touch down. Thank GOODNESS because who wants to sit on an airplane for almost twelve hours?

When we landed in Kuwait, while the flight number remained the same, we all had to deplane and wait in the airport for about 45 minutes. The culture shock officially begun when I stepped off of the plane. I was painfully aware of the fact that I am a woman, and was not accompanied by a man. The gate was a room of wall to wall windows and at the entrance was airport security and metal detectors. At the Kuwait airport (and the Bahrain airport, for that matter), you are required to go through security at each gate.

Eventually, we boarded the plane and endured the very short flight to Bahrain. When I landed in Bahrain and we deplaned, I headed towards customs, with a quick pitstop at the exchange station. At the customs window, I handed the agent my passport and information card.

“Where are you coming from?” “San Diego, California.” “Why have you come to Bahrain?” “My husband is in the US Navy and is stationed here. I’m here to visit him.” “Is this your first time to Bahrain?” “Yes sir.” “We are going to have to double check your passport. Please go have a seat over there.”

I headed over to a grouping of chairs filled with questionable looking people. Apparently I also look questionable. One by one, my fellow delinquents were pulled into rooms behind closed doors and never seen again (I’m sure they were seen again, in fact I know they were as I saw one of them at LuLu’s- the Walmart of Bahrain- a few days later). After a few minutes, the customs agent pulled me back to his window, I paid my 5BD, and moved on.

Next came baggage claim. Now, people in the United States complain constantly about having to wait for their bags at baggage claim, and then not having their bags arrive at all. Well, I will forever appreciate the speed of baggage handlers in the USA after the handlers here in Bahrain were far less than expeditious. Every ten minutes or so a sprinkling of five to six bags would make their way around the conveyor belt. My two bags were, of course, two of the last few bags to make it onto the carousel since they had been put on the plane in Washington, DC, not in Kuwait like the majority of the passengers’ luggage.

After gathering my luggage, I headed through the “nothing to declare” line, and finally made my way out to the rest of the airport.

It took a total of two hours to deplane, exchange currency, go through customs, and get my luggage, but I was finally blessed with seeing my husband. While we couldn’t hug, kiss, or hold hands until we were in the privacy of the car, just seeing him was magical enough!