Destination: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Recommended Airlines: Emirates
Accommodation: Rose Rayhaan by Rotana
Attractions: Dubai Mall and the Dancing Fountain, the Burj Khalifa, Desert Safari, the Gold Souk.
Overall Experience Rating: 🎒🎒🎒🎒 (4/5)
I visited Dubai in the early autumn of 2015 and despite it not being peak heat season, it was absolutely boiling. I’m no weatherwoman, but I mean late 30-degrees, maximum humidity and no breeze what so ever. As soon as you left any air-conditioned space, it was indeed survival of the fittest. Anyways, our accommodation was really nice; we stayed at the Rose Rayhaan by Rotana, a couple minutes walk away from the Financial Centre metro station. In terms of independent exploring, it was a very convenient location – so I would definitely recommend it!
Considering the fact that all the architecture in Dubai is vertical in design, the obscene height of our hotel shouldn’t have been so impressive…but it was! The building’s specifications were ridiculous. 72 storeys high with 65 publically accessible floors, thus making it the 2nd tallest hotel in all of the city. NO exaggeration – the speed at which the elevator(s) ascended and descended that altitude, literally blocked our ears.
Our room was on the 48th floor and afforded us an astonishing view of the whole strip on Sheikh Zayed Road. I have a major fear of heights (which is bizarre because I absolutely love flying) but that view won me over every single day and every single night. The hotel had gorgeous contemporary ‘chic’ décor and great amenities like: an outdoor pool area (which at night gives you a breathtaking semi worm’s-eye view of the stars and the twinkling lights of neighbouring skyscrapers), a well-equipped gym, sauna, jacuzzi and fabulous restaurant (although we only opted for B&B, their international breakfast buffet was poppin’ so if that’s anything to go by…).
Even outside of the hotel, you quickly realise why Dubai is linked to notions of luxury and grandeur, the wealth is aesthetically visible: they wear, drive and eat it (to be honest, this hit me upon arrival, when I saw a row of luxury sports cars in the airport car park).
In terms of activities, we had an itinerary of all the attractions we wanted to visit: the Gold Souk, Dubai Mall and the world’s tallest building – The Burj Khalifa (828 metres ). To spice things up, we also embarked on a desert safari, which included quad biking, camel riding and dune bashing (so basically we engaged in a lot of –ings).
Let me give you all some details…
This is actually a major tourist activity in Dubai. Most desert safari packages will include you being picked up from your hotel in the morning and dropped off in the evening. The whole experience starts off with a rather long (this is relative depending on where you are staying) journey to the outskirts of the city. You just slowly start to notice that you can’t see any more buildings or people… that’s how you realise how far out you really are.
Our package included two main stops (but I imagine that could vary depending on the company that you use). The first stop was the quad biking track (for lack of a better word, because it really was just a massive hill of sand) and the second was the traditional desert camp site. My sister absolutely annihilated me at quad biking. To be fair though, I had never been on a quad bike in my life and I wasn’t trying to injure anything or anyone; however, that didn’t stop babygirl from going all Mad Max on me . Nonetheless, it was really fun and I would definitely do it again (in a lot more protective wear though. I didn’t even get a helmet talk less of elbow and knee pads!).
After quad biking, our SUV started the journey towards the camp site, but along the way we experienced some… turbulence. Literally, one minute we were up, next minute we were down. The driver was showing absolutely no mercy whilst bashing these sand dunes. I’m not being dramatic when I say, in that moment you can feel your insides shifting from side to side. The highlight of this day definitely had to be my mum squealing “Jesus take control!” in Yoruba. We were accompanied by a Pakistani couple too, so phrases in Urdu were being exclaimed throughout the ride as well, hilarious! By the time we got to the camp, we were all so knackered. Everyone was in much need of a good meal and a long sit down, and that’s exactly what we got (Thank God). The camp was massive, so multiple groups from different excursions were there. In addition to food and uncomfortable seating in the form of very sturdy cushions, we also received entertainment ranging from belly dancers to fire eaters. I got some henna done too, which is always a perk. If I recall correctly, the duration of the camp was no more than an hour and a half – max, then all the respective groups were on their merry way.
My advice: if you’re thinking about doing a desert safari in Dubai please take: a scarf, sunscreen, lots of water and a pair of sunglasses with you. Also, it is very much an all-day commitment, so you better be ready to go hard or go home (well…hotel, but you see where I was going with that). All in all, it is an adrenaline pumping way to spend a day, especially if you have been chilling or shopping for majority of your trip – it will definitely switch up the pace for you.
Before I continue, I think this is a good point to interject that prior to travelling to Dubai, I knew this particular emirate had a diverse ethnic composition due to international work opportunities, but I had no insight into the daily lives of non-Arab people in Dubai. This was of course until I found myself subconsciously analysing the social position of resident black people. My personal experience, i.e. the way in which people, especially the indigenous, received my blackness was varied in different areas. To top it off, as a trio of black women, upon commuting around Dubai (which has a very straightforward metro system, if you were wondering) we did experience occasional stares but only one incident of blatant racial prejudice. Get a slice of cake or some biscuits because I’m about to give you all that piping hot tea…or should I say hot chocolate…
The Gold Souk
The gold souk was very much a non-negotiable part of our trip (I have a Nigerian mother who loves shopping). But naturally when you hear that the souk it is located in the ‘very old and traditional’ town of Deira, you automatically paint this picture in your head of unfriendly old women around a market square, judging you with their eyes. However, that wasn’t the case at all. The gold souk and other market trades in the area were mainly operated by men. Again, let me interject that there is a lot of cultural-religious overlap in the UAE. The entire country has laws and cultural expectations inextricably bound to their national religion – Islam. For example, women – tourists or not, are expected to dress in a modest manner (at least this is what the foreign travel advice page of the .gov.uk website will tell you lol, though I saw differently in some areas).
Anyways, on that day I was wearing a maxi dress with capped sleeves, but I was still quite self-conscious of its tightness (not that it was lycra/spandex material), as I didn’t want to offend or upset anyone. I just remember readjusting my dress to loosen the cling in 15 minute intervals (because hiding what my mama and God gave me isn’t an easy task ). Despite all the anxiety, everything was fine. Looking back, I have no idea what I thought could go wrong…perhaps a public scolding? *shrugs*
A shop owner in the market did however refer to me as ‘chocolate’. At first it completely flew over my head, in fact we laughed. This was mainly because a huge part of my identity construction as an adolescent was redefining and re-associating my darker skin tone with more positive things, like chocolate. Yes, there was even a time (many, many, MANY years ago) that my twitter name was “chocolate brownie” (don’t judge me, I was young and naïve ). Anyways, you get the gist that it wasn’t an alien comparison to me, but to be honest I had never been referred to as chocolate by a non-black person before. He did knock some dirhams off our purchases, so he couldn’t have meant any real offense… right? It wasn’t until later that night that I became in two minds about it. I began to wonder about the motivation behind his statement of the widely obvious. However, I didn’t dwell on my slight scepticism for long, I chose to see it as the former – a compliment.
Upon further observation and reflection on a previous encounter, I realised the increasing likelihood of black femininity being an object of sexual fetishisation in Dubai. The truth of the matter is that such deviant sexual rhetoric concerning black women has been embedded in Middle Eastern societies since the Arab slave trade (Is it only me or was this also omitted from your history syllabus at school as well?!). But believe me when I say, that google search really became a rabbit hole in which I was free falling; by the end of it, I found myself reading up on the origins of ethnic hybridity in North Africa.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, we were on the receiving end of one disgusting act of racism, and come to think of it, possibly sexism. On our penultimate night, we decided on having a casual dinner (mainly so that we could stay in close proximity to our hotel) so we ended up eating at Pizza Hut, on the other side of the main road. Everything was hunky dory: we ordered, we ate, we paid the bill and we left…we even thanked the staff on our way out. Roughly 5 minutes later, as we were approaching the metro station to use the overhead bridge, we heard someone calling out to us. We turned around to see a short, bald headed, middle aged, Arab man running towards us, followed by a much younger colleague. Please believe the foolish manager of Pizza Hut and one of his minions had chased after us to accuse us of not paying for our meal?!
*inhales & exhales*
Till this day, I still cannot effectively articulate nor literarily express, my level of disgust concerning this incident. I mean this man was barking at us in the middle of the street, requesting evidence of payment. To make matters worse, when we were defending ourselves, he had the audacity to raise his hand in our faces, as if to signal our silence. There were just too many violations of common decency! Clearly on the basis of us being black as well as female, he was eager to try and belittle, insult and embarrass us. By the time boy wonder (our actual waiter) came running out, to clarify the situation and vouch for our successful payment, this man had publically dragged our integrity through the mud. I know, crazy right?! It was even more ridiculous in retrospect, because I’m sure this “manager” doesn’t make such ‘mistakes’ or ‘oversights’ when Caucasian or Emirati customers are involved *sigh*. He didn’t even give us an adequate apology, nor did he recognise that his approach was simply unjustifiable. I wholeheartedly attribute his blissful ignorance to the unspoken racial hierarchy within Dubai, coupled with the entire region’s patriarchal social structure. So if any of you are ever on Sheik Zayed Road, please BOYCOTT the Pizza Hut closest to the station. That kind of disrespect doesn’t deserve your dirhams!
Despite that blip in the road, the trip was lovely. Dubai is a beautiful place that exudes opulence. In my opinion there is something for everyone out there, whether you just wish to relax, do a bit of high end retail therapy or engage in exhilarating activity – you are covered! Moreover, I honestly don’t know where else you can get the kind of visual inspiration that Dubai’s skyline provides. It is astonishing. The history and transformation story of the city will also light a fire underneath you, because Dubai really started from the bottom, now it’s here! (don’t you just love a cheeky Drake reference? ). It is the ultimate reminder that where there’s a will, there’s a way; so definitely don’t give up on your dreams (just discover new oil reserves asap). All in all, the City of Gold genuinely does possess the charm of making all who visit it feel like royalty – so book a ticket, hop on that plane and start queenin’ (or kingin’).