So we took the ferry from Bandar Abbas (pretty grim place, not a lot going for it! – and disgustingly hot!) on the 6th, just two days before our visas expired. We used our last few rials on a hotel for the night, and prayed that we wouldn’t be charged extra at the port for the biciclettes, as we didn’t have it! Very exciting to arrive into the port at Sharjah the next morning, after spending the night on the ferry with a fellow traveller also Kathmandu-bound – albeit directly by air from Dubai – Wolf from Germany, and finally be able to get cash out of an ATM! (Unfortunately, this was something we did a little too much of during our stay in UAE – everything being so expensive!)
We spent two nights in Sharjah’s heritage hostel (how old is it?- this arabian souk-style building in the narrow lanes of the “heritage quarter” we asked Naim, the Bangladeshi migrant worker in charge – very old madam, his reply. How old is very old I enquired? Oh maybe 35, 40 years like that. Turned out the locals had knocked down all the remains of the pre-oil-wealth fishing village, but later realised that old things are actually interesting to the foreign tourists… Oh well, we’ll just build it again!)
We got a call from our lovely new friend Sarah, living in Dubai, who we’d met at Ozora, and she told us she’d sorted us out somewhere to stay! Wow, this would make our necessary stay in this snazzy city slightly less financially painful! Grrreat – we piled the bikes into a pick-up taxi (the only road from Sharjah to Dubai (only 10km or so) was a 6-lane highway, and our experience of local traffic was a somewhat aggressive one) and off we went, chatting away to our friendly Pakistani driver about the crazy world of Planet Dubai; which appeared like a sci-fi mirage above the desert, all shiny glass buildings with the most futuristic train network, hovering over the roads, weaving through the jungle of skyskrapers… Everything is on offer in this global city; if you got the means that is; indoor ski-slope (umm, in the desert?!), world’s biggest shopping mall, underwater hotel, man-made islands in the shape of palm trees, the world, and soon some “poetry” by the sheikh: “It takes a man of vision to write on water” (Read: it takes more money than sense to…) So you get the idea, nothing old in sight, all cars must be made in the last 5/6 years to be on the road, NO bike lanes or bikes in sight. Plenty of fast cars and scantily clad women, alcohol is allowed in your home or hotel, but not outside, you’re not technically allowed to house-share, and definitely no sex outside of marriage. Hmm, and yet there is an international community living and working here, doing exactly what they would at home, and it all goes unnoticed, until the local authorities decide to make an example and give harsh jail terms. (One example Sarah gave us: a European couple who had recently met, out one night, somehow the girl fell out of a window and died, the guy goes to her and is holding her body, the police arrive and arrest him! Because 1; they’d been drinking, 2; they’d had pre-marital sex, and 3; there was some evidence to suggest they might have been sharing an apartment, like some of his clothes in her place… -Disgusting.)
We arrive at Sarah’s office, in the aptly named Media City, as she’s in the middle of a project with a deadline for the fast-approaching Abu Dhabi Film Festival next week, so she’s crazily busy. We wait for her in a lebanese cafe next to the BBC building as she’s running late. She rocks up in her boss’s swanky 4×4 (he’s away in Germany for a few weeks, and has left her not just in charge of his car but also his apartment, which is where we’ll be staying). She drove us there in it. My my, and what a swanky apartment it was too! 22nd floor, Gulf view including the Palm Islands, all brand new, big TV and surround sound (as you might expect for a top media type), and a huge collection of english, french and german films! Wow, what luxury.
The reason for coming to Dubai was to find an alternative route to India, not crossing Pakistan. One day I hope to visit Pakistan for sure, but sadly I don’t feel that now is the right time. So the plan was to find a ship from Dubai to India. The only real possibility for this turned out to be by dhow, a small wooden boat used for transporting cargo across the Arabian Sea, we asked a few people, and it sounded pretty dangerous, they’re not the safest boats, and to be honest I was too scared of flipping over and Arthur and Clem sinking. That would really throw a spanner in the works. So we looked into flying. I felt pretty hypocritical as i’ve often had a few words to say about the air industry, but at least by cycling, we’d cut down our flight time from 9 hours to 2 ½. That’s pretty good going i’d say.
After a trip to the Indian Embassy, it transpired that we’d be waiting up to ten days for our visas – we were a little saddened as Dubai was drinking up our savings a little too quickly for our liking, We spend a few nights in the apartment, then moved to a hotel in Bur Dubai (the Indian quarter, to my delight!) to make way for the 3 french editors who’d been flown out to work on Sarah’s film. Good guys, we all had dinner together at Sarah’s friend’s villa one night after their deadline passed– Joel cooked steak and a big yummy salad (went down a treat, turns out everyone usually survives on takeaways) and we dined in the garden by the pool – a huge luxury in Dubai, where most people are very far removed from the earth, living in spindly tower blocks!
We wiled away the time reading, learning Hindi, swimming in the rooftop pool, sweating in the sauna and watching movies. Oh and sampling the delights on offer in the local indian restaurants – the only thing in Dubai not ridiculously over-priced! Yeah I know, hard life… We were delighted to get a text saying our visas were ready a little early – and raced about the city sorting everything required to fly that night. When we picked them up, we realised we’d only been granted 3 months, instead of 6. We were both fairly gutted about this, and threw around some ideas about flying to Sri Lanka first or Nepal, but in the end we got on an Air India flight to Mumbai, and didn’t even pay any extra for the bikes – they let us off after we’d told them all about the details of our trip! They were flabbergasted! AND my bike box was 42kg – 12kg over the international limit for any one piece of baggage. However, true to the Indian tagline: sab kuch milega (anything is possible), some calls were made and we were waved through with a couple of minutes to spare.
We arrived in Mumbai after a relaxed (and nearly empty) flight, with the sweet joking hostesses fussing over us (and even taking pictures!), and after a few hours in a ridiculously over-priced grotty room, we got in touch with Abhinav, called a cab and made our way to his place in the Andheri part of the city.
He had a lovely Italian named Silvia staying too, and we enjoyed listening to them playing guitar together and singing. A little sanctuary in one of the craziest, filthiest cities in the world. The pair of them set off for Goa, but Abhinav’s father agreed that we might stay a couple of days longer, in order to collect our bikes, which were in Firefox Bikes, Bandra (recommendable – for quality of parts and service – so clean!!) being fixed.
We’ve been out a few times, and although I’ve spent a few months travelling in India previously, the sheer level and scale of poverty never ceases to amaze me. We saw some distressing sights, including a man with half his skull missing from an untended wound that had been left to rot (on a train, where everyone just leapt out of the way, and noone tried to help him, myself included as I couldn’t think of anything to do for him.) It certainly makes one feel grateful for all of the blessings we have.
So that brings us to this morning, when I’m hurriedly typing away as Joel packs up the last few bits and we’ll hail a cab to take us to the ferry port in Colaba. Considered riding the 30 odd K through the city, as we really feel quite safe on the roads here, unlike Dubai, –I guess they’re used to the mayhem! -but figured it could take us all day, and we are SO eager to get out of the city now that we decided against it.
So we plan to escape the city by boat, and begin our ride from the peace of the northern Konkan Coast, we’re expecting beach camping, plenty of hills, small roads, lots of monkeys, ferries to cross the many rivers and about 10 days on the road before Goa, possibly in time for Joely’s birthday on the 1st…. Oh yes and things are hotting up just two days before Diwali – everything’s lit up and folk are going shopping-mad! It’s busier than usual, which is hard to imagine was possible!