This is a description of the weather in Dubai, as detailed by http://www.accuweather.com for the first few days we were here…
- Sunday November 1st – Plenty of Sun!
- Monday November 2nd – Sunshine!
- Tuesday November 3rd – Sun through High Clouds!
- Wednesday November 4th – Abundant Sunshine!
- Thursday November 5th – Brilliant Sunshine!
By Friday we were simply back to ‘plenty of sunshine’. We were starting to wonder if the Arabs here have as many words for ‘sun’ as Eskimos have for ‘snow’. Every day saw the temperature down in the low 30°C’s and, factoring in the humidity here at sea level, it certainly feels like the hottest place we’ve ever been.
Leaving Iran was horrible. Parting with Reza, our guide and constant companion through this wonderful country, was an unbearably sad occasion. Reza really looked after us and gave us many valuable insights into life in Iran. We were invited for dinner to his home in Shiraz, where we met his beautiful wife, Sayma and his lovely daughter, Raya, his mum and sister joining us for an evening of unsurpassable Iranian hospitality. We had hoped to spend the last day together having a farewell celebration; instead we spent all day at the port of Bandar Abbas negotiating Byzantine customs procedures required to obtain passage for the two bikes to the UAE.
We were under the impression that our ferry tickets were all booked and all we’d have to do was turn up and roll-on / roll-off, having had Carnets and passports stamped to say we were leaving the country, a simple reverse of the entry procedure. It turned out that while we had ferry tickets, booked by the tour agency, the bikes did not. Our tickets cost just under £30 each; the bikes were treated as freight and cost just over £200 each for the one-way passage! The worst part was that we had to be at the shipping office by 8am on that last morning. It then took a very tiresome 8-hours of running around various harbour offices to deal with all of the customs procedures (more smaller sums of money for clearances and photocopying), all the while fending off the advances of various customs agents who wanted $50 each to clear the bikes, all unnecessary as Reza was on the case. Finally at 4pm, with the heat starting to fade from the day and our paperwork finally in order, we bade a final, sorrowful farewell to our travel companion.
We then waited until midnight for the ferry, which should have left at 9pm, to set sail for Arabia. We spent the time chatting with some new friends, Jürgen and Ruth a German couple from Munster, currently travelling around the world in a gigantic MAN camper truck. In this travel malarkey you lose one friend only to gain two! The remainder of the passenger list consisted of a half-dozen backpackers and a number of Iranian families who were working in Dubai. The vessel was spacious so we could spread out and lie down for a kip and were fed a simple but tasty meal of chicken and rice just before leaving. There was also a light breakfast of flatbread, jam and tea in the morning.
During the approach to Sharjah, neighbouring Emirate to Dubai, the captain requested we refrain from taking photographs of the waterfront where a number of building projects were underway to add to the imposing UAE skyline. I can’t imagine anything sensitive unless some of these were naval installations. Once off the ferry we had a few hours of more customs procedures mandating the evaporation of more money (reckon on £90 per bike for ‘stevedoring and delivery’, ‘customs duty’ and ‘customs inspection’)… We started a race with Jürgen and Ruth to see who would finish first… They made a good head start when we were asked to put our soft luggage through an X-Ray machine and they drove off laughing at our misfortune. A suspected stash of illegal drugs turned out to be a bundled blisterpack of daily contact lenses, which took precious time to locate and explain. Then we went to the wrong building for the customs inspection wandering into the ‘Director of Customs’ office where a fine Arab gentleman, dressed in immaculate white kandura, sat behind a plush walnut and leather desk; the director himself. He smiled at us, bade us enter and take a seat. This time our error turned to advantage as our host ordered up some utterly delicious rosewater flavoured coffee served in the finest of china, then called in a minion to take care of the inspection.
Thanking our host, we went with our man and were ushered into the inspection office to have the necessary admin completed. Through a service window we watched Jürgen and Ruth sweating in a queue to have their paperwork stamped. Our turn to laugh at their demise… but then we got lost, riding around the harbour buildings looking for one final office to get everything ticked off and release papers issued. When we found it there was a big MAN truck just pulling up outside… Conceding defeat I held the door open for Jürgen as he entered to collect his final stamps. To celebrate our arrival in a new land the four of us set off to a nearby Pakistani restaurant and had one of the best curries ever.
The ride into Dubai was an impressive arrival; a haggard sawtooth of mammoth skyscrapers in every shape and form imaginable from simple block to polished ovate, huge spreads to pointy pinnacles. Off in the distance we caught our first glint of sunlight off the Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world at half a mile high. We slept for most of the next two days. Iran had been a relatively exhausting schedule with a lot of miles to cover in short days that ended in busy cities. Now we had to gather ourselves to prepare for India with two more big-ticket admin tasks ahead; organising our Indian Visas and arranging shipment of the bikes to India. The bikes had taken a battering through Asia (both drive chains were badly stretched and clanked horribly as we rode along) and needed a good service.
The first shock was the visas; we were told that, as we were not applying in our country of residence, these would take 15 working days to process the applications and then a further 4 -5 days to obtain the actual visas. Possessing only 30-day tourist visas for the Emirates it was going to be tight. It also meant we had to wait for the shipping until we knew for sure what was happening with the visas to avoid incurring storage costs. The second shock was that we were unable to obtain bike insurance. It is mandatory here yet only available to residents on an annual policy basis. This meant using the bikes only when necessary and added delay in Dubai, which can be a pretty costly place to stay.
At this point we received a helping hand by fellow biker and Facebook Friend; James Draycott-Lovell. James recently moved here to take up post as chief engineer on a local super-yacht and helped us tirelessly with references for our visa application and also in getting somewhere to service the bikes. We spent a pleasant evening with James at a marina-side bar against the spectacular backdrop of yet more glittering skyscrapers having a good old natter about life in Dubai, life at sea and of course, our common passion; motorbikes. A really big thanks to you James, for all your help!
With the visa applications all sorted and submitted, we turned to servicing the bikes and the excellent team of mechanics at SRG Motorsport, as per James recommendation, who soon had the oil changed and new chain and sprocket kits fitted. Although our tyres were only half-worn we decided to replace these too and take the old tyres with us as spares to India where we learned that getting tyres for big bikes has become very difficult due to recent changes in the law. All motorcycle tyres require an Indian ‘type approval’, meaning they have to undergo safety testing before this approval is granted. Given there are no big bikes in India it is not economically viable to gain this approval for the tyres for our bikes and they can be hard to source in country.
We now settled in for a long, seemingly dry, wait for the visas… The last booze we’d had was in Armenia as Iran is totally dry. We managed to convince ourselves that this two week furlough, saving a bit of money and giving our livers a rest, was bound to be a good thing, wasn’t it? Well no, it wasn’t. It was like crossing a desert without a sniff of water. Imagine, if you would, travelling to a place called ‘Shiraz’, with not a drop of the stuff in sight, nor to be had for hundreds of miles; well that’s just cruel! We missed it most at mealtimes when plates of delicious Iranian food were just begging a glass of decent grape to wash them down. Instead we had a glass of Doogh (pronounced Dook) a buttermilk drink that, whilst refreshing, just didn’t cut it the same as a tall glass of chilled white wine.
Dubai and the UAE are also ‘officially’ dry, however given the numbers of immigrants it is permissible to buy alcohol in bars, where it is very expensive, or in stores for personal use but only if you hold a residents permit. We met Ruth and Jürgen for a quenching of the collective thirsts at, of all places, ‘the Dubai Irish Village’. This little oasis has a bar, a replica Irish post office with phone box, a souvenir/craft shop and a huge beer garden making it the perfect spot for Germano-Celt fraternisation. In one grand and memorable evening we managed to shorten the duration of our trip by several weeks as we literally liquidised budget, converting it to some of the finest black stuff known to man, but it didn’t half put a smile on our faces!
Dubai itself, for all that it is host to the worlds tallest building, the worlds longest, driverless metro-rail, the world’s biggest shopping mall (Dubai Mall with over 1600 stores), is a bit of a soulless place lacking any sense of history or culture. Even the old city souks, the one place with a bit of character, are under threat. We wandered the slowly disappearing spice souk, whose trade has been usurped by multiple Carrefour Hypermarkets, having read that developers are already eyeing up the site for the next tower block.
I found it hard to make any sense of the place with all these mega-blocks sprouted up along this desert coastline, where people come to work and earn money; mostly it seems building more mega-buildings. And they work hard. We spoke to Indian, Nepalese, Pakistani and Filipino folk employed in hotels, restaurants and driving taxis all here to earn good money and dreaming of the day they can leave and go home to rejoin wives and children, where these wages make a big difference. Taxi drivers all work a 12-hour shift, seven days a week with no holidays. Daily targets must be attained and failures are penalised.
For all that Dubai was a pleasant sojourn; everything was orderly, clean and tidy and the people unbelievably polite and well mannered; gentlemen offered Mags their seat almost every time we rode on the crowded metro. Then some good news; the Indian Consulate requested our passports for visa processing after five working days, not fifteen… four days later we had six-month visas for India. In parallel we kicked off our shipper, ‘Aztec Logistics’, who organised packing and loading of the bikes for the boat to Mumbai. All of a sudden we were free to go, released from these doldrums of Dubai and India will be the next stop on this breathtaking journey…
Please click on the following link to the photogallery for this blog: ‘Dubai‘