Twenty-five years ago this now 8 lane roadway was two lanes, and camels weren't an uncommon choice of transport. Our driver told us multitudes of facts in halting English while simultaneously managing a cranky stick shift and his PA-in-bag microphone situation.
And, while he continued to explain cultural customs, point out one new building after the next, and slow down before passing each of the many traffic cameras, his audience oohed and ahhed in the back, necks on swivel and generally craned to look straight up.
Periodically, he'd stop, each of us gasping in shock at the sweltering 108 degree night that awaited outside the bus so that we could take photos...then selfies...then pass our cameras around to one another to take photos for us. We became fast friends. Strangers the world over with one night in Dubai in common.
Annick lives in Houston, but was on her way to see family in her native Ivory Coast. Linda is from Ireland on her way to India. One gentleman was headed to South Africa. A couple from Bangladesh. There were a few other Americans - an actor from LA and a lady from somewhere I can't recall. A gentleman from Pakistan kindly took far too many photos of me at various sights (I left my new selfie stick in my checked bag), some with his own camera, saying he wanted photos of his new friends.
Dubai is a crossroads. Our driver told us that 80% of the city's population is not from the UAE. Driving past buildings bearing many familiar names and brands, I could see that it was true. It's a bizarrely new place, with wealth oozing from some of the buildings and hotels and construction a constant. A manufactured utopia to which people the world over are drawn - even if only to take a two-hour bus tour.
My flights from Portland were fairly uneventful. The flight path was extraordinary - up directly north from Seattle, over the North Pole, then back down over parts of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Iran. Amazing as it was, 15 hours of flight time with a number of extremely unhappy little ones and a kind but unaware old couple behind me who chose to use my seat back (and often a handful of my hair) as leverage to stand up (which was on average every 20 minutes) left me exhausted and weary. Leaving the airport to head to my Emirates Airlines-provided lodging, a tall young man from Pakistan sat next to me. We chatted - he'd missed a connection and was stuck for the night. Later, as I ate dinner in the hotel buffet, Sa'ad passed by and joined me. We talked a bit. He shared photos of his baby girl and wife and talked about his family's optical business.
Having been on only a fraction of this trip, I've already met so many people. Traveling alone is amazing for that. When alone, we're far more willing find what binds us. And, aside from one extremely icy and terrifying immigration agent (but I'm fairly certain that's a prerequisite for that gig regardless of country), everyone has been exceedingly kind and helpful.
So now, on to Colombo. After my tour, I managed a quick shower and a few hours' sleep (well, let's just call it sleep-ISH) before it was back to the airport to pay $6 for a sorely-needed cup of coffee. In theory, someone will be at the airport in Sri Lanka to pick me up. I'll trade the high-rises and fancy cars of Dubai for tri-shaws and elephants. I can't wait!
(More photos to come...uploading my high-quality DSLR photos on iffy wifi is proving a challenge.)