Boarding the ferry from Iran to Dubai!
The boat is enormous. It’s a square monster full of cream colored Dubai taxi’s, perhaps to give the boat some necessary weight. By entering the inside of the ferry I am shown a whole couch to use for myself alone. ‘Stretch out’ is the gesture been made to me and that’s what I do. I am tired and more than sleepy, just like all the people, mostly women, around me. We all lay down and sleep. Till 7 o’clock in the morning, when a sudden shake moves the ship. I open my eyes to find out we have just left the docks to move towards Dubai while the schedule should have been we would arrive at the other side of the Persian Gulf in early morning. We got a huge delay and soon I find out why.
The ferry sails twice a week, on Sunday and Wednesday. A ticket costs €41 and timings depends fully on weather conditions. ‘Boarding’ is around 5 PM. Note that Iranian Rials are next to impossible to exchange, perhaps Delhi being the first possibility…
It’s a stormy day
The boat rocks and shakes it’s way through the wind, through azure colored water. When I notice the ferry in an unnatural angle hovering very near the ocean, I start to get really worried and checking the faces around me, I see there’s reason for that. Most people, women and men alike, are all lying on their couches. A few men, I notice when I am able to make my way to the deck to click some photo’s, are sick and trowing up constantly. By every shake the ship makes, a little more swaying than before, a few women with worried faces sit up straight at once to check the angle. I manage to eat the free meal provided by the ship but then I lay down calm too. But not before I moved my money, credit cards and SD cards into a watertight little pouch tucked in my bra. This monstrous square ship is not very elegant and I am afraid it will capsize.
The boatman, one who had still nerves left to try it on with me, says the weather is wild indeed, but we will not capsize. I lay back on my couch and get a grip when the swaying is too much. If we go, we go all. And when I see the impressive skyline of Dubai with it’s countless pinpoints sky rocking as if it were a contest, I am relieved. This part I can swim…
Persians versus Emirate
I must admit, when we arrive safely at the immigration office that our bunch is a rather back-warded one. Women sit on the ground, spotless and shiny, the ground, not the women. Wearing these funny masks, like they are angry birds watching all that is in front of them from an unnatural angle. The clothes they wear is a collection of sheets, it seems, and their children are a bit more wild than they usual are. I feel at home with these women, and we huddle in unison, their smiles warming me on these unknown grounds. Of course, we are all tired, after a disturbed night, followed by an anxious boat ride and about a seven hours delay. The immigration ladies look sophisticated dressed all black, and all too fat. The immigration man handles us like if we were annoying cattle, and I must say, we act like it, our bunch of sheet covered hawks. Then, as soon as I am set free, my bicycle handled with care, we are off.
I feel a bit out of place, dressed poorly to Emirate standards and with a bicycle between glitzy jeeps, four wheel drives and expensive shiny cars. Boys are playing football bare footed between the high buildings. Pakistani moves their bicycles through traffic, mostly in the opposite direction. As soon as I get out of Dubai, I feel more at home. Although I don’t know exactly where that is, having a look around me I am at once in Africa, India and Pakistan. And I love it. It feels good immediately and I come to conclusion that all these people surrounding me give me a feel of a mix of Aruba and Kuala Lumpur. First thing I do is get money and having a lot to eat. It turns out a Pakistani, serving me delicious biryani and a huge fried fish. While I eat -or shove inside more- I watch the scene around me: the Africans dressed revealing and plain sexy, mingling with the well dressed Emirati, outfitted in starch white robes, while there are plenty of Pakistani in their local, plain, salwar kameez, where Indian women dash out with colorful ones. I eat and I enjoy where I have landed now. ‘Where do you want to go?’ ask the Pakistani restaurant man. Taking advantage of his offered service, he’ll soon talk to Pappy over his own phone.
What a welcome
Pappy is a good-looking South Indian fellow, as his daughter like to use this word. I found him on Couch Surfing. When we arranged I could come and stay with his family, he’d called me, from the Emirates, to Iran. Now, Pappy arranged to meet me at a hypermarket, as cycling to his home is too far out for me, as he thinks. And I agree, but only when it start becoming dark. The Pakistani restaurant man draws a plan for me, he wants me to redraw it to be sure I know where to go, and I am off to meet Pappy and his wife Dany.
The Emirates are cheap. Pappy had said to me: ‘The Emirates are cheaper than India,’ of course I did not believe him but as a matter of fact, you can live as cheap as you desire, as well as lavishly and expensive. As you like. I choose the first.
Indian Family Life
What surprises me most by staying at a family such as Pappy’s, met through Couch Surfing, is that I am just a part of it. It even feels like I know them longer than I actually do. The easiness with which they accept me and have me in their 2 bedroom apartment amazes me. Their life goes on, busy as they are, and I can just tag along. Pappy brings me where I need to be, he even pays for all my food and wants my supermarket purchases on his bill too. I let this happens once but not twice, it would be too much. It really astonish me how this family take care for me, and sometimes I ask why? Why are these people so hospitable? So I ask Pappy and he tells me he welcomed me because I am cycling, I am active and living my dreams. He appreciate this. And he attempts to keep me longer and longer…
However much I appreciate the warmth and welcome of Pappy’s family, I sit way too much inside their apartment. It must be their inheritance as I was always expected to stay inside when I was in Pakistan and rural India before. I sense that many oversees family’s living a life inside their houses, where it’s cool and eventually artificial cooled. Unless you have a lot of money to spend, there’s not a whole lot to go to in Ajman, where I am located. ‘You are free as a bird,’ conclude Leela, the mother of Pappy, who lives with them. She doesn’t speak much English, though she finds out I am neither married or having children. Having a look around me, all I see are high rise apartment blocks, little windows as grasping mouths, never having enough air to live on. Living in The Emirates doesn’t appeal to me, imagine how it is for someone born in tropical soil called ‘God’s own country’ Kerala. Even the rules for oversees people are different than those who’re locals. And come to think of it, it might be discriminating, but it does work. This nation is completely safe! Car’s of those who drink and drive are seized, people who trespass the law are deported. I can not agree more: strictness is clear.
For this beautiful and original photo, check out Vishnu’s page
The feel of India, the coolness of the ocean
Slowly I seem to adapt from the activeness of cycling to an abundance of rest. Very often I think I do not need rest, and while resting I can’t have rest. So this dullness does good for me. Nevertheless, I am ecstatic when I get out: supermarket visit! Lulu hypermarket, owned by an Indian from Kerala, becomes a great experience. To see how many different nationalities roam in this hypermarket and how everyone seems to smile at each other, or at least at me. No one give another strange looks, something you see in the West sometimes, because of what we wear, how we look like, our body mass, our hairdo. Here everyone looks different, literally. With 290 different nationalities living in the Emirates, we are all strange. And the feeling I derive from such a supermarket is just wonderful: if only this could be an example for the world!
The land of unnatural
The Emirates are a land of fertilizer and sprinklers. There are continuously gardeners working to keep the grass short and wet. There are always men busy to clean the roads. To plant tiny flowers in huge flowerbeds. To press down little rocks in endless stretches of earth. Countless humans drive the perfect highways to their work, when the sun is at her most glorious. I ask myself why these people are here? To built this country of the easy going, not so much working sheikhs. Or to built their own, far away from home. To make money, for another house, to rent out. To make more money, to have more, to add, yet more troubles?! What struck me most are the construction workers, they earn a little more than they would in their own country, they live in bachelor camps, they are transported in bulky buses to and from their camp to work. What do they live for? For work? I just can not imagine a life further removed from nature than the Emirates. Roads only exist of one way traffic, sometimes with not less than 7 lanes, thus getting to the other side becomes an art on itself. This country is erected out of the dry desert and while I make a little tour along the coast, just to get out and cycle, I can not do else than admire what has become of it. Cycling from Ajman to Umm Al Quwain, on to Ras el-Khaima and the border with Oman is nothing special, except that I am finally able to camp.
It is not so much that I enjoy cycling along the coast than I truly enjoy the free-style camping. The roads are dotted with young men assuming they have to test their formula one vehicles. The coast is spoiled with ridiculous massive ‘resorts’. The freedom to have my night sleep where I wanted is priceless. I am relieved to be alone again, refrained from electricity, just being in the nature, however man-made. The sea and the wind are playing so enthusiast together that I hardly fall asleep. I refuse to use earplugs and let myself be lulled by the sea wind, and the next morning gently removed by a Sri Lankan worker. He says it is forbidden to sleep in the sheikh his garden. The next evening I am blessed with little birds signing on a windless evening, a police patrolling spots me, tells me it’s okay to spend the night, and I continue my feet padding onto the soft sand. It’s December, not cold, not warm, but perfect, nothing else to do than writing my diary…
Being in the Emirates and the smell of disinfectant Dettol soon comes your way, in an overwhelming amount. I am not sure whether I like that so much in a juice bar? I am taken out by Shiva and we enjoy a free museum visit, owned by the sheikh of Sharjah. It does good to see African desert art painted on huge canvasses. Less good is my own smell. I need to buy some deodorant. A good excuse to visit one of those renowned malls! That’s another great experience, if only for an African security guy -Africans are usually hired for security jobs, presumably because of their strong appearance- who says he’s so happy to work in the Emirates. He loves his job and never want to go back to Africa, where people don’t like to work…
Cycling is for the wicked
It’s an extreme clean country, most rubbish picked up by Indians, what a contradiction, knowing how dirty India most of the time is. I see a lot of details, mostly on unrealistic luxurious buildings, like the tower of Eiffel in miniature. A lot of flags are fluttering in the constant ocean wind, much longer flags than usual, as proud evidences on houses and every other building. Cycling through smaller places let me see the contradiction between Dubai and the normal part of the Emirates, perhaps the original land. Shops are stocked and piled up like tomorrow is the date of disaster. The locals leave me in peace, and I am happy with this, now my cycling here seems to be an every day happening. And this is certainly not true: ‘Cycling is forbidden, I have to fine you!’ says the Emirati police man -one of the few jobs designed for the locals- who hardly can suppress a smile on his face. I know he’s playing with me, although he must not be amused with me cycling on while he is behind me with his alarm system blasting for 5 minutes. I am deeply focusing on the traffic in Jumeirah: cycling here is insane. And I have to cycle a lot as Pappy arranged a television interview right in the center of Dubai.
People are not used to a cyclist among them, shiny cars and four wheel drive jeeps -it’s a rule that cars have to be washed- not knowing how to pass me, whether to pass me or just deny me access. Cycling is for the poor, and the poor -mostly Pakistani- do so in their own neighborhoods, not in a posh high rise district like Jumeirah and Dubai center. I am overwhelmed by the height of these buildings and I wonder what is happening behind these walls, all erected by Indians, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and the little strong men from the Philippines. Meanwhile, with this blaring police car behind me, I try to find the direction where Pappy had send me, to his workplace. Having left the police man behind me, without paying, I continue my way to Dubai Investment Park. Here I can leave my bicycle stored at Pappy’s work until I return back from a little holiday to Europe including home
Our differences makes it interesting
Before I take off to Europe, Pappy and Dany takes me to a party where I am surprised by how party’s ‘Indian style’ are going. It is not before a few hours I am offered tea and not before midnight the barbecue started. Although the family’s are far from strictness, I find it funny to see all the men flocking to one room, a bottle of alcohol hidden among them. The women are seemingly bored huddled together in the bedroom. The room where we women all get to sleep together, a few on the bed, a couple on the floor. But not before the children are finally knocked down by sleep at around 3 in the morning.
This whole lot of family collection gathers together with Christmas too, the real Christmas feeling is touchable among them, I enjoy it mostly because there’s no abundance of presents and though very good food, not so much that one has to trow up. Pappy arranges a Malayam newspaper and television interview and another newspaper interview is organized by an old friend whom I met in Yemen and now’s living in Dubai. We try to get attention for the cause I cycle for, but unfortunately, to no avail. Attention in the Emirates is of a very short lived moment.
Cycling in Dubai, a paradise for many, not for cyclists
Cycling up to Jumeira was not such a good plan. I hoped for camping possibilities along the pristine beach but all I see are fancy houses fenced with high walls. Camping on the beach would be very uncomfortable with constant strollers, not to say foolish, besides that it is forbidden. So I cycle on, past more fancy houses and high rise buildings in the distance. I start to become a bit worried. Where I am going to spend my much needed rest for the night? I already asked a local where I could set up my tent, unfortunately he did not offer me his huge palm tree filled garden. I search for a police but I can’t find one. I decide to stop worrying as I remember myself it always has worked out. ‘Just keep cycling, Cindy and something will come up,’ I tell myself… I park my bicycle against the low wall facing the white sandy beach while a man comes up to me. ‘I have seen you in the newspaper today!’ My first thought is that there are not many cyclists out here in Dubai and that it indeed must be me. ‘Yeah, that’s me, I guess, Cindy,’ I introduce myself. Bill is from South Africa and an expat in Dubai.
While a heavily tattooed and overweight man’s jogging up and down, Bill offers me to stay the night in his house. I must be careful not to look to eager to accept! Only a few moments later, after Bill drew me a perfect stylized map where I cycled the wrong direction, I am in a house opposite the impressive skyline of downtown Dubai. The tall and elegant Burj Kalifa is piercing proudly above all others. I praise myself when I take a shower, water of a mud brown dirt flowing along my feet. I watch my body in the mirror expanding over the whole of the wall and see a small worked out one though a bit chubby around the waist. Way too much food.
Soon we sit around a plastic cover spread out on the ground. Bill, Anna, their two children and me are going to have a dinner. I am so happy that by now I have no problems in accepting what ever is presented to me. I just follow but keep praiseful: a night out in a Yemeni restaurant. And the finishing touch of this evening comes when Bill shows me the glittering shining lights of the nightly skyline huddled around Kalifa tower. What I see puts me right back where I come from…
The Fairy Tale!
I have stored my bicycle for 8 weeks at Pappy’s workplace and I am going to have a lovely holiday in wintery Europe. Pappy, Dany, their two daughters and Leela all wave me good-bye when they bring me to the airport. Off I am…
I was in the Emirates around December 2013