03 May – Friday
We are called to prayer at 5.45, and wonder how we are going to cope if this carries on through the day. We go back to sleep and awake at 9am, Tony’s alarm didn’t go off, so it is lucky that Cynthea’s did. We have a quick wash and head to breakfast. There is a lot to choose from, but are a little wary as to how long it has been there, and wonder how effective the burners are keeping the food warm. We try a bit of everything, and make the most of the Nescafe instant coffee available (small cups for the coffee though).
We have a tour to go on at 3pm, and the operator says they will email and text at 2.15pm with pick up details. Tony tells them we don’t have internet available, so please text. We decide to go very early, to get our bearings and have a look around. It is a bit if a maze getting to the train station, but not too bad, Tony tries to take note of all the twists and turns, and takes photos at the intersections. Not only will it be dark when we get back, but it will also be after 10pm, and the shops will be shut too. We make our way to Al Ras station, and being really observant people walk right past the secondary entrance to the platforms and ticket office, heading straight for the main entrance. The metro here is really simple, one red line and one green line, and a tram line. No platform numbers to worry about either, “the train going to Creek will leave from the Creek platform”, and everything is well signposted. We buy tickets to Deira Centre, across from where we will catch the tour. AED6 each, about $2.50, with one transfer. The tracks are glassed off, as in Singapore, and there are “women and children only” pink colour coded carriages. Tony gets into one by mistake and quickly moves through, he is a bit concerned that he might be in trouble, but soon notices even locals do the same. It seems as long as you are out of there by the time the train moves off you are ok, but we will try to remember and not do that again.
At Deira there are a number of exits, and well signposted, but unless you know just where you are supposed to be, it means nothing. Usually signs are in all three languages, but sometimes English is not there. We head for the main city centre exit, and come out into blinding sunlight. Tony tries to check the map, and cannot see the shopping centre where we are supposed to be. From here it looks like we have to go through this big mall to get to the next one, as the one we need is not in sight as we expected. It is hot, around 32 degrees, but thankfully not humid (yet), but the sky is hazy from heat and sand dust. We head for the airconditioned mall (near freezing compared with outside).
We spot a “Timmies”, a Canadian coffee brand, and make a note to go back once we find where to meet the tour reps. After a bit more walking Tony gets his phone out, and realises that we should be across the road (we came out of the metro at the wrong exit), and so we turn back, but not before Cynthea spots a Marks and Spencer store, so she decides she needs to check that out first. It is next to Tim Horton’s, so Tony goes in for a coffee, AED16 ($6.50) for a medium latte. We get given coupons, so Tony stows the hot coffee, and we opt for a couple of frozen hot chocolates (yes, that is what they were, haha), and a pack of mini donuts. We head back outside into the glaring sunlight, and from this angle see the mall we should have gone to, and head along the road. The mall is a single store over several levels, and it is air conditioned inside. We look for a hat for Cynthea (find nothing suitable), and buy water and cheap sunglasses. We are concerned that we have not heard from the tour, and have no access to internet. So we wait, and wait.
There is a couple of guys obviously looking for people, but not for us. Soon after 3pm a guy comes in shouting Luxury Tours, but the accent is pretty thick and it takes a while to realise it is for us. He is quite abrupt, and does not introduce himself, not do we get a welcome. Go there, wait here, come this way. Not please, no thank you, no kiss my arse. Rude. We are not told what is happening at any stage, and there are a couple of passengers to pick up that he cannot find. There are some heated phone calls, and we wonder if they had the same lack of information as us. After more than 20 minutes he finally finds where they are waiting, and there is more shouting, they are obviously pissed off and he just tells them to hurry up and get on. We are driven out to the desert for our tour, this was supposed to be a special day for Cynthea’s 60th and it is not going well so far.
The mini bus stops where a lot of 4x4s are parked, we are told to get out, but nothing more. He picks groups of people and yells at them to come now, hurry, get in this one, but still nothing to say what is happening. Tony takes a photo of the mini bus so we know which one is ours (none are marked), and asks what we are supposed to be doing, but is ignored. We don’t even know if this bus will be the one we get back on at the end of the night.
We are last on to a 4x4, and we are off dune busting, a thrilling 20 minute ride through the dunes at speed. Waaa hoo!!! One woman is silly enough not to use a seat belt, not that there was a reminder to do so (automatic for us). There are three vehicles in front of us, so we can see what is in store for us. A thrilling ride.
We stop near a compound, and get out, and the 4x4 leaves, we are wondering what the hell we are supposed to be doing. There is a long queue for the camel rides, so we head straight there, this being the main reason for going on the tour, it is something we wanted to do for ages (last opportunity was in Turkey, and thieving buggers wanted EU20 just to sit in the damn thing!).
We try to take notice of how people are getting on and off, it is a bit of a tricky manoeuvre as the camel stands or sits, are we are waiting to see if someone goes flying over the head of the beast. The process is not that graceful, but thankfully there are no incidents, and we hope that we are not the ones to provide the laughs. We also note that the camels at the back of the line have figured out they do not have to walk the whole track, they walk a few steps, and stop, waiting for the lead camel to come back around, and the turn and stop. Not much of a ride for anyone on those lazy buggers, and we are pleased to be at the front of the queue when our turn comes.
But the lead camel is too big, and Cynthea cannot get up on its’ back, even with Tony’s help. There is no assistance from the staff either, they just bring someone else over to the camel and tell them to get on. We are pissed off, we have been waiting ages, but they take us to the back, where there is a smaller camel, but still no offer of help to get on. Cynthea eventually makes it up there, Tony gets a couple of photos, but they won’t take a photo once he is up there himself. Apparently we have delayed them too long. We are told to hang on tight, and we do! Hold on tight to the handle in front (it won’t be much help stopping you tumbling forward), and dig the knees into the camel to try and stay put.The back end comes up first, and Tony is hoping like hell he doesn’t tumble off head first over the beast. Then the front end comes up, it is as bad as a roller coaster, haha. Then we are off, at a nice slow pace. Tony gets in a couple of photos, but they are quick as he would rather be enjoying the ride, we are on the lazy beast that doesn’t want to go any further than it has to.
Getting off is just as perilous and the camel drops to its’ knees, arse in the air, and Tony is looking down at the sand again. Hanging on for dear life. He hopes Cynthea is managing this ok too! Getting off is easy, still no photos of him on the camel, but he is not going to worry too much about that. Once we are off, we wonder what else is happening. People are grouped up on top of the snd dunes, so we head up there to see what is going on, and there are dune buggies going around and around a track beside us. Cynthea wants a buggy ride, Tony is not keen, boring, we cannot even leave the track, so will just be going around in circles. At the top of the dune people have sandsurfing boards, but no one gets up a decent speed. We join a short queue, but the ignorant prick hogging it keeps calling friends over to use it, and ignores us. We got to the other side, where a family of four are using one, and wait for them. Tony figures that if you go down the slope in the tracks of previous users, you get a better ride, still slow though. We figure that the organisers don’t want to too many accidents. It is fun, but Cynthea decides she doesn’t want to try. Tony plays on the board until others come, and leaves them to it.
As we pass the dune buggies few are using them, Cynthea wants a go as there is no queue, but then we see why, AED525 (NZ$215) for a 20 minute go. Bugger that.
We head off to climb other dunes and get photos above the compound, still nothing to say what is happening where, we are just finding things out as we go. As we head down to the compound we finally find a notice board with some information on it. The tent sites with different events are labelled, but nothing to say where the falconry is. There is welcome tent just inside the entrance, but they are anything but helpful. Tony asks where are the falcons? and is told “outside”, he tries to get more information. We are getting increasingly pissed off with the lack of organisation and information here.
Back outside Cynthea spots someone with a bird, you can pose for a photo for AED10 ($4), so we ask where the queue is. No queue, we are told, just wait. One or two that arrive after us get taken first so we block the next one that tries to push in. Tony is first up, and the falcon is sitting on his shoulder while Cynthea takes photos. Then he is asked if he would like the bird to sit on his head, so we go with that too. Cynthea has her turn, and the price is AED 30 because we had two poses. Still, not too bad, and we are happy with that. It is near sunset, so we head out for photos. We get one decent one of the sun going down, but it is over too quickly .
Back in the compound we are supposed to have been allocated seats by tour group (of which there are several). Ours is the largest, but there are no seats spare for us, so another group invites us to join them. We still don’t know what he order of the rest of the day is, or even when we are leaving. We were told that there would be drinks and snacks included when we arrived, Tony finds water in an ice filled chilly bin by the bar, but he sees that others are being charged for drinks there. No sign of snacks, except for those being sold at one tent. Getting to feel like this is a rip off, and feeling rather pissed off to put it mildly. After a while we notice a couple of tents open up, and people coming out with small plates of food, must be the snacks. Tony goes off to get some for him and Cynthea, but as he gets near the servers, they pack up and leave, none left. We are directed to the end of another very long queue, and everyone is getting frustrated. No organisation and no announcements. There is no choice, all or nothing, there is one samosa, a falafel, and a couple of pieces of something else we were not sure what, but it was nice. Tony asks for a plate for Cynthea, they ignore him, so he just stands there and asks again, they continue to ignore him so he raises his voice, and they finally tell him only one. He says he wants one for his wife please, as she is having difficulty walking. Ignored again, he asks twice more, and in the end reaches for a plate being handed to someone else. They pull it back and he glares at them, but finally gets another plate. Not impressed. He passes the bar on the way back and someone else is there handing over soft drinks (no charge for these by the looks), he gets a couple of lemonades.
There is a tent behind us where we can dress up in costume, but it is basic and no one to help. We decide not to bother as the also look quite grubby. Cynthea asks about a henna tattoo, and is told there is a charge, hmm, these were supposed to be free. We see that that the buffet tent is open so we head for a meal. We are looking forward to our bbq tonight. Another disappointment. About half the dishes are empty, and those that had food in are not labelled. Tony avoids the salads as he doesn’t know how they have been prepared. When we get to the end a staff member is handing out the bbq meat, a single chicken skewer each. They obviously don’t know the meaning of a bbq! More than one person in the queue mentions their disgust at the way everything is run, and we all feel it is a bit of a rip off. There is still plenty to eat, so no one goes hungry, just that by now there is a lack of choice.
There is belly dancing displays, and fire dancing, and all of a sudden it stops, and people are leaving. We decide to go to the toilets before the long trip home. But what had smelt rough earlier in the night was now disgusting. All the urinals are in use in the gents, so Tony goes to a stall, but there is shit all over the floor, literally. Here the local custom is to wash your bum with a water hose and then dry off, but in doing so everything ends up all over the floor. So Tony heads back to the urinals and it is only when he goes to wash his hands that he realises the mess from the stalls has washed all over the floor in here. Grossed out, much. Cynthea has the same experience, but no urinals to use as a back up plan.
Someone from Luxury Tours (now there’s a laugh, luxury my arse!) comes over and tells us to hurry up outside, but outside there is no indication where we need to be. We got to a couple of lines, but it isn’t us. We go to the front of the longest line to ask if this is the right one, and get yelled at for trying to queue jump. Getting sick of these ignorant pricks. Told him we are wanting to know where we should be, and are told to go to the back to wait our turn. We have to ask again if this is the right queue, and we still do not get an answer. At the back of the queue the others confirm it is the right company, and they share our frustration but we all agree that it has been a wonderful experience.
The ride back over the dunes in the dark is fun, Tony tries to video but he runs out of memory on the camera card. Only a short trip this time, but still exciting. We are dropped off, and still no instruction. Tony goes looking for the bus that dropped us off, and one of the other passengers finds us, and says the driver is getting impatient waiting for us. Tough titty.
We are dropped off back at the mall where we were picked up, and decide we are too tired to bother looking through, and head for home. The auto ticket booth doesn’t want our money (credit card) so we have to wait for a real person at the ticket counter. Tony asks for a one zone, single trip for two, and is asked where he is going. Tony just says the same again, he has forgotten the name of the station, but he knows it is in the same zone. The bugger won’t issue the ticket until we tell him the name of the station, it takes a while to remember, and the map he has in front of the counter is unreadable (tiny print). Sigh, machines are so much easier to deal with, sometimes! It is a quick trip back, but we are surprised how busy it is until we remember the shops are closing. We feel safe enough here, and generally people are polite enough.
The exit to the Gold Souk is well signposted, but we come out at a different part of the street, that throws us for a moment while we get our bearings, then realise that the main entrance is across the road, and down a bit. We had walked right past this building this morning (we were across the road), and not realised what it was as there is not much exterior signage – but it is there when you look properly!
The street is quite dark as all the shops have now closed, and we are a wee bit concerned about that. We manage to get most of the way back before Tony makes a wrong turn. Cynthea says we are going the wrong way, Tony says no, there is the mosque. So we head off in the wrong direction for a while until Tony realises that she is right for a change ;-) It doesn’t help that there are mosques every 50 metres, and also at this time Tony didn’t realise we had came to, and left, our hotel by the back street entrance.
We are shattered when we get in, and need a shower after playing in the sandpit. Tony flicks a couple of messages off to Trina who is meeting us in the morning. We confirm 10am, and Tony says he will send some photos of the area to help her find the place in the morning.