I enjoyed my time in London. After all my French adventures, London was simple and pleasant. I knew that the following weeks and months in the Middle East and Asia would bring their complications and hardships, so even though I relaxed in the UK, in the back of my mind, I knew that this comfort was soon to fade.
Finally the big day came. I was off to Dubai.
I was very excited about this new leg of my tour. I had never been to the United Arab Emirates, and even though I heard plenty about this cosmopolitan oasis in the desert, I willingly kept an open mind about what to expect from Dubai.
Traveling to Dubai for business or pleasure is normally reserved for the rich and famous. In other words, the expensive prices of this fully-imported air-conditioned desert-surrounded city are not very appealing to your everyday backpackers. Travelers on tight budgets will most likely go to other cheap (safe) Middle Eastern countries if they want a little taste of the exotic – but to be honest, most of them just make it to Turkey, they drink the coffee, and buy the hookah and bang! Facebook friends will think they’ve visited Aladdin’s local Agraba.
I was a special case.
My aunt (and godmother) married a Spaniard about 15 years ago. Because of his work, they moved from Michigan to Madrid, and after Spain’s unfortunate economic downfall, they relocated to sunny Dubai in August 2013.
So, the only reason that I even considered stopping by Dubai was because I had a place to stay there for free – and a handful of young cousins to babysit.
I also managed to buy my flight entirely with miles. I got a London, Dubai, New Delhi round trip ticket for under $300 – which I had to pay for taxes. That was the reason that I managed to sneak Dubai into my travel destinations.
My flight landed and my aunt, Annie, came to pick me up at the airport. It was a little bit strange to see a familiar face in such an unfamiliar setting; but no matter where we end up, Annie’s smile is enough to transport me back to memories of childhood comfort and kindness.
We hugged and headed to the car.
As we drove out of the airport, all I could see was desert. Where was this Emerald City that everyone spoke of?
Annie had moved there a few months ago but was already settled in and getting used to calling Dubai ‘home’. We drove for about half and hour, and suddenly it appeared, like a desert mirage. A glistening silver city had raised itself out of the sand, on the coast of the Arab gulf. It would have been an imposing sight, had it not been surrounded by miles and miles of endless horizons. Dubai is the meeting point, or competition even, of natural desert wonder and manmade engineering brilliance. It is the manifestation of wealth and excess. It is as fake as the temperature inside its malls and as mesmerizing as the heights of the Burj Khalifa. It definitely has a sense of being the arab Vegas, with less gambling and more burkas.
As we drove towards the city, Ferraris, Maseratis and Porsches drove past us like busy ants making their way to the ant-hill. Granted, the closer we got to the city, the more imposing it became.
After a few moments, we were surrounded by cosmopolitan civilization. We drove past streets and winding roads. Skyscrapers rose into the sky, like imposing pillars of glass and steel, defying gravity. From afar they had seemed so small, especially next to the Khalifa. But here they were, imposing manifestos of our potential as men. They stood proudly, under the Arab sun, as examples of the creativity and genius of our human minds.
I remember I thought to myself: “Is this what the future feels like?”