Wet, Cold, and Frozen on a Big Bus

In ten years he had never experienced weather like this, said our taxi driver. Regrettably,  this was our day to tour Dubai on an open-air bus – a Big Red Bus.  It started out as a cool, overcast day, a little disappointing but ok day.  We took our seats at the top and prepared ourselves for an easy intro to this sci-fi looking city.

Traveling along, our English-speaking recorded guide told us about everything we passed.  At Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a magical, luxury reconstruction of an Arabic souk,  I could barely resist putting on one of the diaphanous gowns, grabbing a hookah pipe and stretching out any of the hundreds of lavishly decadent silk Persian carpets.  Drunk on the rich aromas, we floated down the aisles, nearly hyperventilating from deeply inhaling the soft, enveloping scents – not overpowering, rather mood altering.

Eventually, we dragged ourselves out – it was our first stop and the stores were only now opening – it was too early to sit and have coffee at one of the enticing restaurants or cafes.  This is when the weather began to go downhill.  We transferred to another Big Bus line and headed out to the Arabia Sea to Atlantis the Palm, an other-worldly, palm-patterned set of islands created by hauling rock from distant mountains to make a water break, then dredging and relocating sand from the Arabian Sea, with the use of a GPS and over the course of several years, to form a patterned land mass visible from outer space.

As we drove a half mile out into the sea on a land bridge, it began to rain and the winds picked up.  Increasing more miserable, I was grateful for my North Face jacket and crocheted hat.  At the Mall of the Emirates, which was more like any nice mall with two or three floors, we warmed up with coffee and pain au chocolate at a Cold Stone on third floor.  Tom was still hungry afterwards, so we shared a chicken breast at the Texas-themed, El Paso BBQ, which was interesting because you would never, ever go to El Paso for BBQ.

Tom bodily dragged me out into the cold again and back to the Big Bus stop.  Through weather worthy of Belgium, we huddled together as the bus drove a long straight, endless stretch of highway.  In all this, we never considered escaping to the enclosed, heated section of the bus – that would be quitting, but our companions began to dwindle down to a Nordic-looking family and a Korean couple.  By now, I was longing for my warm hotel room bed, heaped with blankets, but more was to come.

We were not going to enjoy several things we had been looking forward to, but the biggest disappointment was a sunset tour in the desert.  We also were passing on a dhow cruise and water bus ride – no way were we going out on the water again, no matter how charming the idea!  I was so thankful we had walked and dined along Dubai Creek our first day here.  I regretted putting off the gold and spice markets until today; I could not face them in the gale.  So our last unmissable stop was another indoor mall, the Dubai Mall, which turned out to be our best stop of the day.

The biggest mall in the world (bigger than Mall of the Americas?!?!), it has over 1200 shops, an ice rink, aquarium and is the gateway to the Burji Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and to a lovely fountain.  What excited me was “The Souk” within.  At last I was seeing the shopping grounds of very-rich emirati ladies in search of yet another elegant frock.  Because of technical mountains I cannot overcome, I still cannot post photos, but they are coming, perhaps not until we return home – so frustrating to be without my computer.  There was also an haberdashery where men could come to be measured for a new kandora/dishdasha.  Twenty or so igals  were displayed in the window, and far within we’re the magical scarves that, when properly wound around a man’s head, transformed him from a mere man into an exotic swarthy prince.

Tom went to look at the fountain alone – the cold had taken too much out of me.  We are a long way from Arizona in more ways than one.  While he was gone,  however, fate intervened.  A man came along to evict those of us who were sitting – customers only, he said.  But where was the shop?   I asked.  Around on the other side of a hump he motioned, and what was there? A build your own frozen yogurt shop!  That you, Lord, I silently exclaimed!  Surely this was manna in the wilderness!  Forgetting the cold, I measured out a small amount of yogurt into my cup, added blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, granola, and almonds, and was soon ready to face anything the skies might throw at me.  I saved some for Tom’s return, explaining it was eat or be evicted, and I couldn’t stand longer.  Sounded like a good story to me, manna in the wilderness and all!

Again we returned to the bus, which hurtled down the freeway toward the mall where we had started the day.  With some difficulty, Tom finally beat back the competition and won a cab ride home.  For supper, we visited the local donar kebab – really fresh and tasty and, finally, returned to our warm room.

Tomorrow, finally, we will be picked up by our driver and driven two hours to the Musandam Peninsula and the famous Straits of Hormuz, our first glimpse of Oman.

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M.A., Middle Eastern and North African Studies. Wanderer. Author, "When Freedom Called: at the front and home front in the Gulf War", 2011.

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