UAE – Round The World Tour 2003 Day 102
Sunday 22nd June
Our time in Amman was all too brief and it is one of the countries that I would one day like to return to. In the meantime, however, we are now in the United Arab Emirates for the last few days of this leg of the trip and we will try to make the most of it while it lasts.
Samir, our friendly hostel manager, woke himself up this morning especially to say goodbye to us. We will miss him. He was one of the most sincere people in the whole of the Middle East that we had the pleasure of meeting. The taxi driver that he arranged for us was on time (at least for local standards) and drove us the twenty minutes to the airport just outside of Amman.
I don’t know what it is about airports but they always seem to bring the worst out in me. It must be all the queuing up and waiting in line at the various counters as you navigate through the airport terminal building. The routine is much the same in any airport; first you find the correct check-in desk, then check-in, then go through immigration, then have your bags x-rayed, then find the departure gate, and so on and so on. What put me over the edge this morning was the immigration officer that sent us back to ‘buy’ a departure tax ticket. I was under the impression that we had pre-paid all departure taxes and there are several of them actually listed on our flight tickets. When I questioned the myrmidon, all he would do was to mutter ‘another tax, another tax’ and gestured us towards the ‘Departure Tax’ ticket counter next to the check-in counters. I think the main problem was that this was a situation over which I had no control. Unless we forked out the additional $15 for the departure tax tickets, we would not get on the plane. Fortunately, I still had a $20 bill tucked away for a rainy day.
I picked up one of the complimentary newspapers on the way through the tunnel to board the plane. Ordinarily, I don’t read newspapers but since we’ve been largely deprived of news of any kind over the past few months, I thought it would help to pass the four an a half hours of flight time from Amman to Dubai if I indulged in a bit of a read to catch up on events. A couple of interesting articles piqued my attention. The first was the Harry Potter mania that is sweeping the globe with the recent release of book number five in the JK Rowling series. The other was the explanation to why the Dead Sea was closed when we tried to visit yesterday. It seems that there has been a huge gathering of world leaders and diplomats in the Middle East in connection with the most recent Israeli/Palestinian peace process. It’s a good job that we visited Petra when we did since Colin Power went there just a day or two after us. With the mass shut-down of huge areas of the country due to visiting dignitaries, we might have otherwise missed our opportunity to visit the one place that drew us to Jordan to begin with.
For the second country in a row, we arrived inside its borders with absolutely no idea where to go and nothing booked. First order of business, after clearing all the awaiting airport formalities, was to grab a bite to eat and to procure some ready cash. We also stopped by the airport information desk to inquire about some hotels and we were given a wide range of mid-range options to consider. Most of them were four-star hotels and all in the $45-$90 price range. This is well over twice our normal expectations for accommodation but since we are in our last days, we decided to splurge – to hell with the budget. We were even seriously contemplating spending a few nights in the world’s largest and only seven-star hotel – the Burg Al Arab. Seeing this monumental work or art is one of the reasons why we are here to begin with and we came oh so very close to throwing caution to the wind and forking out the near €700 per night for one of the suits. We decided against it in the end but I dare say we will swing by this way for a long weekend sometime in the future to give it a go.
We ultimately settled on a very nice four-star hotel called the Regal Plaza and their driver picked us up soon after we made the necessary arrangements over the phone directly with them – completely bypassing the airport information desk and thus saving at least a bit of commission. It’s the very first ‘real’ hotel that we’ve stayed in since starting our travels. The room is very large with an enormous double bed and a perfectly appointed bathroom with all the trimmings. There are desk lamps, a phone, a desk and chairs and even a mini-bar. There’s even a big TV with several channels that we can actually watch without having to guess what the picture looks like through all the signal distortion due to bad reception. At $45 per night, it’s by far the most we’ve spent on any accommodation anywhere in Africa and the Middle East but it’s still a fair bit cheaper than some of the lesser hotels we’ve stayed in previously in the States. A compromise, if you will.
We settled in, unpacked and rested for a while before heading out into Dubai. One of the highlights of this country (a collection of Emirates would technically be a more accurate a description) is the various souqs where clothing, gold and electronics, amongst other things, are reputed to be very much cheaper than anywhere else in the world. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s been a bit of a disappointment with several items that we looked at being more expensive that in America. The big difference, however, is the negotiation factor. The asking price is not fixed and bargaining is the name of the game. To be fair, though, we’ve only really explored a relatively small area in the immediate vicinity of our hotel. Over the next couple of days, we will venture out into other areas of Dubai to see what the pickings are like elsewhere.
Another must-do attraction here is the Wild-Wadi water theme park. We will probably examine this gem in much more detail tomorrow afternoon. With all the stress we’ve endured with the travelling lifestyle in recent weeks and months, this will be a nice opportunity to let our hair down and just have some plain fun.