Posted by: daradoodle | October 16, 2010

And We’re Off!

These always look way bigger up close

The time had come for Gerald, Katie (H2O president and fundraising guru) and myself to take flight to Uganda. We departed Los Angeles on a sunny afternoon in June on an Emirates non-stop flight to Dubai. Emirates airline is owned by the Government of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), so all international flights connect in this desert metropolis, situated on the Persian Gulf, before carrying on to final destinations. We were to stop in Dubai for a long layover, get on a connecting flight that would make a brief touchdown in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia then head on to our final destination, the capital of Uganda, Kampala. The total flight time would equate to a whopping 23 hours and 10 minutes.

Dubai is one of the seven United Arab Emirates

Katie and I were under the impression that we’d have to find a comfortable bench to sleep on at the Dubai airport while waiting for our connection… 14 hours later! Then, after we had already checked our bags, Gerald filled us in on a shocking piece of information. Apparently, Emirates offers a “sleep transfer” to customers who have booked the earliest possible departing flight from the originating city that day. A sleep transfer? Hubba wha?

A sleep transfer is obtained from the Emirates Customer Service desk at the airport of departure or the Dubai airport. The transfer includes a room at the Millennium Airport Hotel Dubai, food vouchers for dinner, breakfast and snack, and a shuttle to and from the airport. Amazing! Just another reason to love Emirates… if you weren’t already loving them for the comfortable seats, unlimited access to movies, TV shows, music (really good music) and games to keep one entertained for hours upon hours, the best food an airplane could offer, lights on the ceiling that look like stars when the cabin lights are off, the super friendly (and quite attractive) flight attendants, and, last, but definitely not least, the free flow booze for the entire flight.

We arrived in Dubai around 7:30 PM the next day. We were feeling jet lagged, but excited to be on the ground in Dubai. United States passport holders aren’t required to obtain a Dubai visa, but unfortunately, not the case for our Ugandan buddy, Gerald.

After Katie and I zipped through immigration with our sleep transfers in hand, Gerald was stopped and told to take a walk to an office away from the main passport check area. We waited for about 15 minutes before an unhappy Gerald cleared immigration. He didn’t really want to talk about what had happened, but later shared bits and pieces of what went down. Airport officials questioned him about his comings and goings then scanned his eyes. Kind of sucks, but hey, that’s the world we live in today. There was no time for sulking! We were in Dubai!

I look like a turtle when I'm packin my video cam & tripod

Gerald & Katie still smiling upon arrival in Dubai

After we checked in to our hotel rooms, we met in the dining room for dinner then booked a two-hour night tour. Although we were insanely tired and just wanted to sleep, we had to take advantage of our short time in Dubai. We scarfed down the meal and ran back to the lobby in time for our 9:30 PM tour departure. I highly recommend one of these tours to anyone passing through Dubai. You get a snap shot of the city and quite a bit of UAE trivia to go along with the visuals.

Our bus driver/tour guide started off by telling us that he’s not a tour guide, he’s a bus driver… alllllright. This dude knew how many rooms and bathrooms were in every single hotel we passed. Quite impressive. But one fact that really stuck with me was when he said that 10 years ago, Dubai was a desert. No development. Now this place is a mecca of luxury condos and homes, resorts and skyscrapers. Pretty wild.

The first stop on our tour was the beach where we had a great view of the Burj Al Arab, the sailboat looking hotel, as well as a massive lit up mosque. There were lots of people on the beach, I assume, trying to find solace from the blazing heat. Dubai is probably the hottest place (temperature wise) I’ve ever been. When you walk outside, it’s like someone is blasting you with a hair dryer non-stop. Very intense heat. I’m not quite sure how I’d fare in Dubai if I had to live there, but a little A.C. definitely goes a long way.

Burj Al Arab aka a hotel that looks like a sailboat on the gulf

Mosque

The next stop was the place most folks associate Dubai with… that crazy looking island shaped like a Palm tree. The first time I saw an aerial photo of this Palm Island, I could not believe what I was seeing! Not only does Dubai have an island shaped like a palm tree, but another one shaped like a map of the world called… well, The World.

The Palm is one of two Atlantis resorts in the world (the other in the Bahamas). People come from all over to vacation here and spend one-on-one time splashing around with dolphins. I personally could find better use of my vacation funds, but if you’re a high roller, might as well shack up at this place for a night or two.

Aquarium, Atlantis The Palm

Atlantis The Palm

Aquarium in Atlantis The Palm

Father & child look at the sharks in the massive aquarium at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai

Gerald & Katie walking through Atlantis

The tour/bus guide/driver man let us walk around Atlantis for about 15 minutes or so, before piling us back in the van and heading over to the place I really wanted to see, the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa. Now, I had been to the tallest building in the world back in 2008, the Taipei 101, in Taipei, Taiwan, but when this Dubai skyscraper opened in January 2010, it surpassed Taipei 101. Now I can say that I’ve seen the two the two tallest buildings in the world!

World's tallest building, Burj Khalifa

That just about wrapped up the tour. With no clean clothes or toiletries, one had to get creative for the next day’s attire… having been in the same clothes already for a day and then some. But thankfully there was a small gift shop in the lobby and I was able to buy a toothbrush (with USD, but given change in UAE currency, the dirham). I probably got about four hours of sleep total due to the time zone change… OK, and I had to stay up for a bit to see what Dubai TV is all about.

All toilets come with a spray thingy

When I woke up, I opened the hotel room window and, once again, got blasted with hot air. I wanted to snap a photo of the metro station because I was fascinated that the cars are NOT operated by humans. They’re completely computerized. The way of the future my friends, the way of the future.

View of metro station (blue lights on right) from hotel room

Appreciating English when traveling abroad

We got to the airport early so that Gerald could buy his family iPods and other electronics from the massive duty free. I ended up making a few purchases myself on the return trip, but more on that later. We boarded our Uganda bound flight and set off. The next ground we would step on would be that of Africa.

Boarding plane to Uganda

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