Arabian days

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The last big trip we did as a family before the pandemic hit us all was to United Arab Emirates. Lena had been there before and I was always curious about such a unique place.

From the outside, the image you often get is a luxury-filled one. A place where the rich and extravagant go to get their lavish lifestyle on. A place that seemingly makes dreams come true — spending the day on a Lambo or a Ferrari, having dinner on one of many Michelin-starred restaurants around, head to an exclusive rooftop party, and lay your head down at the end of the day on the finest silk sheets ever made. That is, if that’s your thing.

Ours isn’t, so we were curious to see how these contrasting cultures could not only co-exist but effectively drive forward a country that is largely muslim and historically conservative.


We had landed in Dubai the night before. We were tired and could feel the extreme heat and humidity in the air even late at night. Went to bed as quickly as possible and woke up the next morning to a bright, sunny day.

We headed to Jumeirah Beach Residence beach for the day — yes, everything in Dubai is branded — to explore a bit of our surroundings and get used to the weather.

As soon as we stepped out of the hotel building, we heard the most amazing melodious prayer chanting that echoed through the tall buildings surrounding the small mosque they came from (check the video below).

The first day went perfectly, but on the second one we went to the Atlantis resort on the famous Palm, and it was a huge disappointment. While everything had seemed fairly genuine thus far, this entire experience did not.

The facade image of Dubai started to peel off and show its true colors. In one instance we saw very old diesel buses packed with people from South Asia, picking them from one job to drop them at the next. These are the real heros and the reason why Dubai and similar cities in UAE keep going on: from construction, to the service business, they do it all to make a buck and send another one back home.

In a way, just being in Dubai felt like we were perpetuating this cycle…

To change the pace from the second day, we decided to visit the traditional area of Dubai — namely, Deira — where the Old and Gold Souks are located. These are accessible through abras (traditional boats) who ferry people from one side of the Dubai Creek to the other.

On our last day, a friend of a cousin came to pick us up. He had promised to show us the real Abu Dhabi (the capital of UAE) — we were in for more than one treat.

Unfortunately I don’t have many photos of that day because it was so hectic. We visited the camel stables in the desert, saw them returning from a day of training for endurance racing, climbed on top of the biggest artificial mountain in the desert, ate paratha with Oman chips (a rolled crepe with melted cheese and crumbled spicy chips) while driving through the endless sand landscape, and at one point were sitting on couches in the middle of the desert drinking karak tea (black tea with milk and loads of sugar) while a falcon was hanging out on the other side of the terrace. Visiting the Sheikh Zayed mosque at night was just the cherry on top.

This day was completely unforgettable and felt like being inside a movie at times. Thanks for all the fun times, Hamed!

Moi

The final shot

Hi there, welcome to my blog! I'm Filipe Varela, a designer at Automattic passionate about photography and video. In this site I post photos from my journeys across the world — a slice of life. Browse through the archive or check the homepage for the latest posts.

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