For the next several days Gerrit and I are using our dual citizen passports. He’s European and I’m British. Canada and Dubai are having a “discussion” over landing rights into Canada. UAE want more flights into Toronto and Canada says they have enough flights. So UAE and Canada disagreed resulting in the ordinary citizens of Canada now having to pay at least a visa fee of $110US each. However, if we have British or Dutch citizenship we don’t have to pay the visa fee.
The earliest recorded mention of Dubai is in 1095 AD, in the Arabic book Mojam Ma Ostojam men Asmae Al belaad wal Mawadhea, which refers to “Dubai” as a vast place. In 1587 AD the Venetian pearl merchant Gaspero Balbi mentions the name of Dubai as one of the places where Venetians worked diving for pearls. There are more substantial records of the town of Dubai from 1799. Early in the 18th century the Al Abu Falasa lineage of the Bani Yas clan established itself in Dubai, which was a dependent of the settlement of Abu Dhabi until 1833. In 1833, the Al Maktoum dynasty of the Bani Yas tribe left the settlement of Abu Dhabi and took over the town of Dubai and was constantly at odds with the emirate of Abu Dhabi. In 1835, Dubai and the rest of the Trucial States signed a maritime truce with Britain and a “Perpetual Maritime Truce” about two decades later. Dubai came under the protection of the United Kingdom by the Exclusive Agreement of 1892. Its location made Dubai a chief port for trades and exports throughout the early and mid 20th century.
On December 2 1971, Dubai, together with Abu Dhabi and five other emirates*, formed the United Arab Emirates after former protector Britain left the Persian Gulf. In 1973, Dubai joined the other emirates to adopt a single, uniform currency, the Dirham. The current ruler of Dubai is H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Like the preceding ruler, his older brother, he is also Vice President and the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is unmarried, approximately 54 so at the moment no heirs apparent. The port we arrived at is named in his honour “Port Rashid”.
Oil, of course has brought much money to the country but the emirs, well aware that oil reserves are finite, diversified. Port management, water desalinization, commerce brokerage and tourism are among many successful ventures and bring an abundance of visitors to the country each year. Dubai is the most populated and the second largest after Abu Dhabi. In Dubai you’ll see enormous construction and development in various industries. Construction on a large scale has turned Dubai into one of the fastest growing cities in the world equalled only by the large Chinese cities. It has attracted world-wide attention through innovative real estate projects, sports events, conferences and Guinness records; however with this increased attention, coinciding with its emergence as a world business hub, it has also highlighted potential human rights issues concerning its largely immigrant workforce.
Our guide is a Russian lady. She explains some of the rules of non-citizens face. If you are an Arab native the government provides them with a new house as well as money for each child born to the Arab family. All medical and educational expenses are paid for by the government and if medical attention can not be provided in the country then the family are flown to the country of choice and all expenses are paid by the government. Foreigners however pay for all medical and educational expenses. Rent is fairly inexpensive but work permits are only granted for 2 years at a time and may or may not be renewed depending on the sponsor. The government does not allow any form of naturalization or permanent residence to non-natives; Foreigners are not permitted to purchase and own property without a local partner or sponsor. Even then permits have to be purchased every 2 years. If the permit is not renewed you must leave the country.
We are docked across from the Queen Elizabeth 2. This was purchased by private investors 2 years ago and has been tied up at Port Rashid ever since. The plan is to renovate it into a luxury hotel but with the recession those plans are on hold. Right now a skeleton staff live on the ship to “keep things oiled etc.”
Near the port, Sheikh Said’s former 30 room palace was home for the Al Maktoums until 1958, when the sheikh died. The Al-Maktoums especially Sheikh Said are revered in Dubai for transforming the city into a modern success story.
We are on a ships tour today to see “Dubai Highlights”.
Our bus takes us past some of the most striking modern architectures such as the remarkable World Trade Center with its spherical cap resembling a water fall. We stop for photos of the Jumeira Beach Hotel’s Arabian “Sail”. This place is amazing up close and personal. Of course, for the low price of $1200US you can have a room for the night. Thankfully, tradition has not been discarded completely and a group of old “wind tower” homes in the Bastakiya district near Dubai creek showcase inventive Arabian style. According to custom, several generations would live together in the house. The wind towers provided lots of fresh air and it’s wonderful to walk from the hot street into the cool courtyard though an ally way.
Our next stop is the Dubai Museum (formerly Al-Fahaidi Fort), The early 1800’s structure is Dubai’s oldest building. The ruling family once lived in the old fort but they left it when Sheikh Said’s home was built at the end of the century. In 1971 the citadel was restored as a museum. Unfortunately we’re unable to take photos. The entrance shows a series of photographs documenting local development. The photos are especially striking and make clear that only a short time ago the city was a sandy plan.
An interesting fact: The Arabian camel has a single hump and stores fat – not water. These soft footed creatures run as fast as 10 miles per hour. Camel races are very popular and they can be pretty raucous.
Our last stop of the tour is the Gold and Spice Souks but first we take a dhow (boat) across the Dubai creek. The cost per person is 1 Dirham – a matter of cents our money. The souks are just incredibly. The smell of Saffron, peppers, masala, cumin, garlic and other spices mixed with frankincense and myrrh are delightful. We are at once transported to a far a way land of sultans and Sheiks where veiled women with magnificently painted eyes look over dark face coverings. One just wonders if the eyes are really the road to the soul. Men walk around in the traditional Arab dress of long white dress with hat. Bargaining is a must and we do that for some fabric that I find. This is just a wonderful city.
*The seven Emirates are Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Amm Al-Qaiwan, Ras Al-Khaimah and Fujairah.
On the second day Gerrit went to the Dubai Autodrome to drive in a single-seater Formula Braun car. These are 186 HP cars that run on a modified oval track. Several of the senior officers and I get some instruction, get suited up and then get 20 minutes on the track behind an Audi R8 pace car. As we get familiar with the sequential gearbox, non-power steering and brakes the speeds go up, at several points reaching 150+ Km/h. It is always surprising how long 20 minutes actually is when you are focused and working hard. We wanted to go to the Stage 2 level but the main track was devoted to an R8 club event. Oh well, something for the next visit.
To top off a wonderful stay, we met up with our previous table mates, Jim and Sonia. They arrived at 5pm on the Seabourn Sojourn where Sonia is the watercolour instructor. We join up with Harry and head off to the Kan Zaman Restaurant on The Creek in the historic district. We get seated next to the Creek and then decided that the appetizers look good enough to make them the actual meal! After several orders we eventually find a taxi, cram 5 people inside and head back to our ships. Interestingly most of the staff and taxi drivers are foreigners. A mix of Indian, Pakistani, Ugandan and Nepalese workers do much of the work here.