Often called the “Las Vegas of the Middle East,” Dubai is a place where I’d heard it was possible to spend a lot of time and money indulging every worldly desire; including shopping, dining, sightseeing, pampering, even indoor skiing. All of which sounds exciting, but I was only planning a quick, shoestring trip to a few places around the world. My only indulgences would be to do an occasional load of laundry and maybe buy some chic French cigarettes. So when my travel agent suggested stopping over in Dubai for a couple of days en route from Israel to South Africa, I balked at first. Aside from its reputation as a playground for the rich and idle, neither of which I claim to be, I was also put off by the heat factor. Dubai is blisteringly hot all summer and I’d be going in June.
But I agreed to the stopover anyway, because I decided it would be crazy to go all the way there and NOT see it. I would just have to find a way to enjoy this alluring Arabian oasis known for wealth, dazzle, and consumption, despite my limitations. After all, what is the point of travel if not to challenge yourself a little, and be resourceful?
So I booked a two-day, one-night stay, and ended up wishing I had been able to stay longer. I learned that even for those on a budget, there is plenty to do and see in this growing city-state on the horn of Arabia. I also found that Dubai is more than a playground for the super-rich – it is a fascinating land of paradoxes. East meets west, traditional slams into modern, and the well-to-do rub shoulders with the working-class. In fact, paradoxes seem to define Dubai.
From the glacial cool of the airport terminal, I emerged into the oppressive heat of the afternoon. It poisoned me like a desert viper, sucking up my energy and making me dizzy and weak as I waited for what seemed like an eternity for the city bus. I immediately began to wonder if this was a big mistake.
But I soon got re-charged as the extremely clean, air-conditioned bus whisked me down well-paved roads, through orderly neighborhoods lined with massive, glittering skyscrapers with nary a person in sight. “Sort of reminds me of downtown L.A.”, I thought to myself. Then the bus dumped me in the commercial center of town, a noisy, teeming, chaotic cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells. “Sort of reminds me of Bombay,” I thought. “This is going to be very interesting.”
Hundreds of south Asian men dressed in shalwar kameez milled about the streets, selling food from carts, pulling wheelbarrows full of supplies, and bargaining loudly with customers crowded into stores jammed full of cheap electronics, jewelry and household goods. I gingerly made my way through the melee to my budget hotel, darting across the traffic-choked street, narrowly avoiding being hit by a truck.