Monday, 28 March 2016, 2:30am we have just finished packing our bags for our journey ahead, which will be starting in a few hours. Extremely tired and looking forward to a few hours of shut-eye, Paul and I cuddle up for the last time in our own bed, for the next year. After a nausea spell earlier in the afternoon, and not thinking too much of it and purely blaming it on my unsettled nerves and excitement of the awaiting journey ahead, myself and our oldest son Ernest get woken by severe cramps and what was supposed to be a “good night”, turned out to be a very restless night. Very tired and overwhelmed by emotion, we start our day at 7a.m. A last trip to the Pharmacy for our prescription medication and then we are ready to spend the few hours before our flight, with our family.
We have thought of what the best way would be to say our goodbyes. Obviously wanting to savour our moments with our family who will be left behind, to the very last second before going through the gates, but also trying to limit the overwhelming gulf of emotion to the minimum, we weren’t sure whether to invite anyone to the airport or whether we should rather say our goodbyes at home. Well, having the very caring family we do, they insisted on accompanying us and we are so thankful they did. We could laugh together, hold hands and run back for one very last hug, to the very last second…PRICELESS! We love our family dearly and their love and support during the planning of this journey, once again made us realise just how blessed we are and also how much we depend on our support structure.
19:30 and we are all by ourselves and trying to absorb the moment we have just lived through. The moment we have just SURVIVED! Coming from the very conservative and close-knit families we do, we never thought that we would live to experience the moment of saying goodbye to dear-ones because of someone leaving the country for such a long period of time and knowing that it might very well turn out to be for good. We have just done it… Paul and I kept looking at each other with the most uncertainty we’ve ever seen in each other’s eyes. An expression of “I didn’t think it would really come to this” was visible in Paul’s eyes and he kept saying, while giving a nervous giggle “Babes, I can’t believe we are actually doing this”. We looked at each other knowing that the four of us will be depending on each other more than ever before in this year ahead.
The flight was surprisingly good, expecting the absolute worst from the boys, knowing it is their first long haul flight and with Ernest and myself not feeling 100%, I expected a very difficult night on board. Very grateful that the boys both had a fairly decent amount of sleep and thoroughly enjoyed the Qatar Aircraft, the on board meals and entertainment, my lack of sleep over the past two nights was something I could still cope with, knowing that the boys are at least semi-rested.
We arrived in Doha at 6am on the 29th of March, just to realise that the flight time for our connecting flight was incorrect and that our flight had already left… we had to wait until 10am for the next flight to Dubai. This turn of events was not part of the plan AT ALL and without even wasting the energy of getting upset and without expressing ourselves verbally, we all just came to the quite realisation, that these kind of things will happen from time to time and that the best approach will always be to remain calm and “go with the flow”. By this time the cereal snacks in my backpack (which I almost decided to leave behind at the last second) came in very handy, seeing that the boys started getting hungry. So while they were snacking on their biscuits and playing a bit of Minecraft, I curled up beside them on one of the airport chairs and caught a very brief power nap, which was exactly what my body needed after two sleepless nights, to keep me going for what was left of the day. The rest of the flight went according to plan and we arrived in Dubai at around lunchtime.
Arriving with a year’s worth of luggage, the first thing on our minds was to get our luggage to the hotel…which we haven’t booked yet☺ The boys were watching in awe as mom and dad were getting quotes from the various car rental companies at the airport and negotiating the best possible deal. Much to the boys delight we landed up getting a Toyota Fortuner, which was the only option with the 10 bags in transit. Walking out of the airport to the rental vehicle, we were greeted not only by the longest limousine we’ve ever seen but also by a scourging 39˚C and extremely high humidity. Ernest could not believe what he was feeling and was walking around pressing his hands and cheeks against everything around him to try and find something cold, but much to his amazement even the ground was hot and he immediately decided that Dubai would not ever be a consideration as a permanent residence. Thank goodness for an air conditioned vehicle which immediately cooled the whole situation down… or shall I say momentarily.
All excited and feeling completely in control of the situation, we hit the Dubai roads…WHAT ON EARTH!!!! What happened to the very simple idea we had in mind of Dubai?!? We studied various maps of the city before the trip and had (what we thought) a perfect idea of what to expect. So much so that we didn’t even deem it necessary to use a GPS. What an extremely rude awakening! Do not ever think that you can approach Dubai without an online GPS! The amount of traffic on the roads is similar to Johannesburg CBD traffic on a Monday morning 7am X 10!! I wish I could say that I am not being serious, but that is exactly how we experienced it to be. We must’ve looked like we have fallen down on earth from another planet, with widespread eyes, dropped jaws and at least 7 fingers all pointing in different directions, as we were trying to guess what the right way to go would be and at the same time being awestruck by the enormous, most beautiful skyscrapers we have ever seen in our lives. Using these skyscrapers as our compass we headed in a direction and started searching for a hotel to stay at.
At about 18:00 (local time), we finally found a hotel in Deira, which could work for us, at least for the night, seeing that it is too far from all the main attractions we would like to visit. Not expecting much walking in and being completely and utterly drained after the extremely long and tiring day, it felt like a scene from a movie…a beautiful movie, if I may add. With huge crystal chandeliers hanging from a double volume ceiling and a staircase similar to the ones usually seen in fairy tales, the sound of a grand piano and more gold plated finishings than we would ever thought necessary, we felt right at home and could immediately start looking forward to a good night sleep.
We could only be accommodated with a room with one King sized bed, which would be big enough for the four of us, although Anric decided just before sleep time that he would much prefer a bed on the floor, which he regretted the next morning judging by an aching little body… I could read his mind thinking “Never again”. Being parents, we are quite used to occasionally sharing our sleeping space with small human beings, so this was definitely not the strangest thing that could happen at that point. Knowing fair and well that this kind of hotel would most definitely not be the norm for the adventure ahead, it seemed like a cosy spot to lick our wounds after the sobering day, now behind us. With our focus still on the budget, we were not prepared to lose all inhibitions concerning the finances and reckoned that a good night’s rest is main priority, hence not eating from the hotel menu, but instead walking across the road to a local (very local) supermarket to find something for dinner. Ernest joined me on the hunt and we returned with a 60Dirham dinner, which consisted of grapes and strawberries as starters. Fresh bread rolls, meatloaf, tomato, cucumber and cheese as mains and Nutella on savoury biscuits for dessert. As well as Cappuccinos, milk and butter. We enjoyed a lovely hotel room picnic as our first dinner abroad.
Early Tuesday morning, we start the day with some hotel schooling and then moved along to find a perfect hotel in Jumeirah called Ibis Styles. It was extremely easy to find online, now that we had internet again, and realised how lost we are without this wonderful tool.
We loved the brand new environment and the fresh retro look of the hotel, which was also ideally located much closer to where we wanted to be.
With it being our wedding anniversary, we looked forward to a day of exploring, which is exactly what we did. We spent most of the day in the Dubai Mall, a dream come true for shopaholics. It is the kind of mall which will take you weeks to completely work through and which you also need the budget of an oil magnate for, seeing that a Starbucks Grande Cappuccino cost us R100 each… it was the one and only cappuccinos for the day☺ We were surprised by the strong American influence in the mall, definitely not something we had expected. Some other things which weren’t expected are amongst others a massive Musical Water Fountain which can jet up to 140 meters, set in the 24 acre Burj Lake, with the backdrop being some of the world’s most awesome high rise buildings including the Burj Khalifa, an incredible Aquarium, Sega World and so much more!! And of course having spent so many years in the skincare industry and being a Dermalogica stockist at my skincare centre in South Africa, I sniffed out the Dermalogica store…lol!
The following day we went back to the mall and the boys spent 4 hours in the Kids play area called, Kidzania, which is such a unique concept where children can spend up to 6 hours at a time in a roll-play environment of a “real life” world, but exclusively for children. They receive a cheque to a certain value of Kidzo’s (Kidzania’s currency) upon entering, which they have to cash in at the “Bank” as a start. They then have to make a living by finding a job, which they can pick and choose from. Ernest started as a Doctor, but soon decided that it is not the ideal job for him. He then proceeded to being a banker, which also didn’t end too well. He finally found his comfort zone at the wall climbing and climbed 4 storeys from where he abseiled…HE LOVED IT!! Anric on the other hand had a quick try as a fireman, but decided that he rather wants to absorb the moment and explored each and every square metre of Kidzania and took to street busking… just love how different their personalities are. Something which felt very strange was leaving the boys in the care of someone else in a foreign country and I got seriously frowned upon when I kept asking about the security and monitoring of the children whom get left in Kidzania. I very soon realised that coming from South Africa, where we unfortunately have to look over our shoulder constantly has turned me into a very anxious parent when it comes to the safety of our children. The first thing Ernest said after their Kidzania outing, when I asked him about the best part of the experience, was that it felt wonderful being able to walk around alone as children, without feeling scared… Now there’s some food for mommy’s thoughts…
So while the kids where safe, having a blast and surely enjoying the time away from mom and dad, we used the opportunity for having some fun of our own. We decided to make it a memorable moment and bought ourselves tickets to go all the way to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world currently. A moment we will treasure forever. In a very luxurious lounge, we waited with the rest of our group of 10, for our tour to the top to start. While waiting, we were offered some traditional Arab delicacies, like stuffed dates and Arab coffee in the most beautiful porcelain cups. Finally our much awaited tour started and if you have a picture in mind of a steel structure and plenty of stairs, think again. We were jetted to the top in one of the fastest elevators in the world which moves at a speed of 10 meters per second, so in less than a few minutes we were standing at the top of the Burj Khalifa. The view and being surrounded by sheer opulence on the level we experienced it was an awesome but also very humbling moment which will stay with me for many years to come. We often forget that we are but a grain of sand in our existence on earth and that depending on our own capabilities and power will never be sufficient in helping us achieve our goals. We enjoyed the moment for about an hour at the top, sipping on foamy cappuccino’s and just absorbing the quite awesomeness surrounding us… and of course taking 101 photographs. On our way back down we met some fellow South Africans, who were visiting family in Dubai and it was great being able to share a few words in our mother tongue with some of “our own people” on this journey of meeting many new people and getting to know as many cultures as possible.
Taking it easy with the boys for the rest of the afternoon and being unsuccessful in our search of a beach, we had something to eat, caught up on some schooling and retired for the day with happy hearts and smiling faces.
The next morning we awoke with the pitter-patter of raindrops against our hotel window. But…yup, we are in the dessert. How often do you really find rain in the desert? We felt extremely privileged and knew that we are not going to hide indoors from the rain, these are “rain dance” kind of raindrops and we will most definitely not mind getting soaked in a dessert rainstorm. So we hit the road to Dubai Miracle Gardens.
Well, well, well…we were not prepared for the colour explosion that awaited us. How much beauty is it possible for one human being to witness in one lifetime and how is it even possible for human beings to create so much beauty in a barren desert??? “I imagine that after Alice fell down the rabbit hole; her initial reaction was similar to ours as we stepped through the entrance gate at the Dubai Miracle Garden: a healthy dose of disbelief, with a side of intrigue”. Approximately 100 Million blooming flowers!!!! The World’s biggest natural flower garden, opened April 2015. We knew it was April the 1st as we saw a friend offering his car to anyone who shared his car offer on Facebook, Dubai Miracle Gardens however was no joke, to say it is magnificent is an understatement ☺
Everything we experienced in Dubai leaves us speechless and…hopeful. If it is possible to create all of this in a place where there is nothing but ocean and desert sand, how much possibilities exist hidden in a beautiful place called Africa, with so much to offer, so many natural recourses. We are thankful being able to feel such overwhelming inspiration for our home country which we love so dearly, in a manmade place like Dubai.
Having been surrounded by so much material wonder over the last few days, we were still in search of the true essence and origin of Dubai. We couldn’t think of a more suitable place than the dessert to fulfil this purpose. We contacted a desert safari company (which there are plentiful of) who picked us up at the hotel at 4p.m and the adventure immediately started, getting into a taxi with about 10 other people and a 30 minute drive on the wet Dubai roads heading out to the sandy dunes in a light drizzle. I am still deciding whether it is scarier to drive with Paul (in a left hand drive vehicle for the first time), being an inexperienced Dubai roads user or driving with a very experienced Dubai taxi driver… I think knowing that I will probably never see the taxi driver again, but seeing Paul on a daily basis, I have to say that the Taxi drive was scarier ☺ That was also only true until we got into a 4 X 4 safari vehicle with which we got shown the skills of our driver, manoeuvring the vehicle up and down the dessert dunes with the absolute least amount of effort. So much so, that he still managed his cigarette in his one hand and texting on his mobile phone with the other. All of this while we are clinging on for dear life and screaming our heads of, with Ernest continuously seeking reassurance that the roll cage inside the vehicle will actually be able to save our lives if the vehicle starts rolling.
After a very fun drive which felt like an eternity into the dessert, we arrived at our Arabic lahar which was set up in true Arabic style with Arabic coffee (which I still think was actually tea) as our welcome drink, various traditional Arabic activities to take part in, like Shisha (which looks like a Hubble Bubbly type of pipe, with who knows what being used as smoking medium) which seemed very popular amongst the locals, Henna painting which we all tried out and enjoyed the pretty designs on our hands and arms for a day or two, but got tired of it after a while. I am definitely not an ideal candidate for tattooing☺
As the sun set, we were served a very traditional dinner, which we surprisingly enough thoroughly enjoyed, and as we were finishing our mains, the traditional dancing started. The energy we witnessed while sitting at the typical Arabic tables on large pillows instead of chairs, with our toes in the sand, riding the camels and being part of the most colourful, energetic, dessert experience, is a memory we have made with our boys that will forever be treasured.
We thoroughly enjoyed the little bit of Dubai we experienced and we are already looking forward to revisiting it at a later stage. This time with a GPS…lol!