Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Abu Dhabi, Final Day

I woke up this day of my vacation both excited and sad. It would be my last day in the Middle East, so I was dreading the trip home, but I had a lot of fun and things to do, so I was excited to get started on the events of the day.

First off, we were awoken about 7:00 am by a phone call from my bro-in-law, Dennis. He was calling with news that our niece, Isabelle, had been born. I was sad it was while I was out of the country, but I looked forward to seeing her when I got home!

We began our adventures of the day by heading out to the desert to the camel track. Abu Dhabi was hosting a 10-day camel racing event where people from all around brought their best racers and pitted them against other camels. Laura and the boys and I got to pull up in the car, right to the starting line of the track. We took lots of pictures and video of an attraction I never thought I would see...camels with electronic jockeys racing along the track as their owners followed by the side in their SUVs. As it turns out, though, we were quite the spectacle as well, considering that we were the only women there and the only Westerners. Men were staring at us and laughing, but we decided to brush it off and enjoy the experience. One elderly man even came up and wanted to shake our hands...we asked if we could take a picture of him; it's pretty cool!
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The races didn't last long, so we went to the Carrefour so I could pick up some fun things to bring home for people. I found some date candies that my mom loves and some other chocolates with wrappers that look like ladybugs. They're so cute! I also got some other snacks for the plane (and they came in handy!). This is when I picked up a whole bunch of spices from the bins there. You scoop some up into bags...and there were so many options and so many smells! And everything was so inexpensive. I went nuts. When I got there, there was another couple there, but by the time I left, there were about six or seven people vying for their chance to get to the spices. Laura says it's never that busy there. And the guy who was weighing and labeling them for me was having a hard time keeping up! Now when I want to remember my vacation, I get my big bag of spices out and take a whiff. So great!

Then we got to head over to Matt's workplace and have lunch. I had already met some of his co-workers the night before, so it was fun to see them in their work setting. We went to the cafeteria where everyone came and talked to us...we were quite the spectacle with Jameson and Avery running around, though. Those kids are so full of energy! I had to get special clearance to get in the building and everything, but luckily, I don't have a police record, so I was safe. Phew! Dodged that bullet.

I was getting to the point where I was getting a little depressed because everything was becoming my "last" whatever of vacation. I had to say goodbye to my nephew, Avery, because I was going on a desert safari that afternoon and evening, and he was laying down for his nap. I don't think he really realized what was happening, but I got a hug and a kiss and off he went. Even though he was a two-year-old pill some of the time, he is sure cute. And even sadder is that I forgot to say goodbye to Jameson when I left for the desert safari. I got back from it after he had been to bed, but Laura had promised him I'd go in and say goodbye. Luckily I didn't wake him up when I did!

But...back to the desert safari. After I had gotten most of my stuff packed and ready to go (I was planning on catching my plane just after getting done with the evening's plans...it left at 2:00 a.m. UGH!), my driver, Amir, came to pick me up for the dune adventure. His company had been recommended by one of Laura's neighbors. Laura and Matt had tried to find someone they knew to go with me that evening (Matt wouldn't have gotten off work in time, and Laura was too pregnant to go dune bashing...it'll make more sense when I describe it), but no such luck. They felt bad, but I the way I saw it, I would have to meet new people anyway, so what did I care if Laura knew them or not? Amir came to get me, and Laura told him to make sure I had fun and bring me home safe. He was so nice and chatty.

We followed Amir and the other family he had to pick up out to our destination. I ended up riding with two women, one from Canada, the other from Wales. We got to know each other better as we headed out into the desert for our night of fun. They were both teachers; the one from Canada was in Abu Dhabi working, and the one from Wales was living in Canada...and that's where they had met! It was fun to hang out with them because they were both a little wild. It was funny/annoying because the Canadian girl's car, the one we were in, had this beeper on it so whenever you went over 120 kilometers per hour, it sounded like a pager, constantly. And she liked to speed...so we got about 30 minutes straight of beeping. I'm surprised I'm not still hearing it now.

We got to our destination where Amir then took us dune bashing. Dune bashing is a sport (um, sure?) where you get in an SUV, buckle up, and then the driver cruises up and down the sand dunes, kind of crazy-like! It sounds really dangerous, but it was so much fun, and I didn't feel worried or scared at all. The girl from Canada was a little more afraid and kept shouting expletives from the back seat. I got some excellent video footage of my vantage point with her cursing in the background on the audio. :)

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We made it back to "camp" where they had camels available to ride. And ride I did. I was alone because the other women had already taken their turn, but it was kinda fun, just me and the camel man and the camel (duh). The caretaker offered to take my picture. I'm not letting a photo op like this pass by! I also got my view from the camel. Getting up on the camel wasn't hard, just a little worrisome because it's lots higher than a run-of-the-mill horse. Once I was up, no problem. Getting back down was a different story...you feel like you're about to face plant into the camel's neck because he puts his front legs down and then his hind ones. But the experience was priceless. If you get the opportunity to ride a camel, take it! Unless you're scared of camels...or heights...

The rest of the night I spent watching the sunset, enjoying the stars, and thinking about how I would miss the Middle East. I would definitely miss how warm it was. I would miss getting to sleep in and have time to wander around and discover new things. And most of all, I would most assuredly miss my family there. But for the night, I was still there, and I wanted to be in the moment.

We had dinner, a huge buffet of traditional cuisine, lots of veggies and meats, pita bread, hummus, matobal...some of the best I've had. It was fantastic, and I didn't feel one bit guilty. The woman from Wales was a vegetarian, but she put that on hold for her trip to Abu Dhabi and enjoyed herself as well. And Amir still kept an eye on me because he knew I was kind of flying solo that night.

For entertainment, there was a belly dancer who was very talented. Our crowd was kind of tough, but she got some people to join her, and then we all did the last dance together. I got to talk to her for a bit afterwards, and it turns out that she's only been dancing for a year, and she'd never had lessons before--self-taught! Bravo, I say. It was fun to dance to the music and enjoy the bonfire...but the night had to end some time, right?
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The ride home was uneventful, except that I had to remember where Laura lived so I could be dropped off. I had had a difficult time finding my bearings in the city, especially since I wasn't ever the driver. But I did remember their street number, so we found it without too much problem. When I got home, I took a shower and drudged through the final stages of packing.

I seriously didn't want to leave. I don't think I've ever not wanted to get back from a vacation so badly. Usually by the end of it, I'm ready to be done and get back to normalcy, but not this time. We stalled for a good twenty minutes, just talking and joking and remembering the funny things that had happened while I was there. Laura and I probably hugged four times before I finally got into the car and had to wave goodbye. After this vacation, I feel like Laura and I have connected better than we ever have before. Even now as I write this, I am sad because I miss her and how fun she made my vacation.

I made it to the airport with plenty of time, but it was probably a good thing because the security there was tight, especially on flights headed to the United States. Two separate guards searched through my backpack and opened up my laptop and my headphones and mocked my stash of chocolate. I told the first one that I'm a woman, so I need that much chocolate. He told me that men love chocolate, too. He was quite jaunty for midnight and for his duties of rummaging through people's things sniffing for something fishy. Fortunately I passed inspection and didn't have much trouble checking in. I did, however, fall asleep for a little bit in the terminal while I was waiting for the plane to board, and I woke up with only about twenty minutes left before we took off. I'm surprised no one woke me up!

The man in the terminal who checked my passport cracked me up, though. My passport picture was taken when I was sixteen...for those of you who knew me back then, I've done some changing since then. I'd like to think that I've aged well since the awkward years of teenagehood. The officer opened up my passport and said something about how old the picture was and he said, "You are much prettier now." I don't know whether that was supposed to be a compliment or not, but it sure made me smile.

On the plane, I had to start psyching myself up for the fifteen-hour flight. The twelve-hour flight out there had been about enough to drive me bonkers, so I was getting prepared for a long haul with bad food and awful sleeping conditions. I was so happy, though, to discover that the flight was only about halfway booked, and the lady next to me went and sat somewhere else so we could all spread out and sleep a little better. Thank goodness for small blessings! Also, there was a hot flight attendant who was very nice (hey, it's his job, right?) and quite easy on the eyes. I know, I know...after reading all of these posts I'm sure you're saying, "Geez, Annie! Can't get your mind off the good-lookin' fellas!" Hey, I'm single and unattached...so of course I'm lookin' for the eye candy!

Anyway, the flight wasn't too bad. I only got about two hours worth of sleep in small stints, but there were on demand movies and I studied my plan of attack for New York for a little bit, too. Just trying to be prepared. I was going to have a few hours to take the subway into Manhattan and do a little sight-seeing and shopping.

1 Comments:

Blogger Erika said...

Seriously, dune-bashing! Awesome! And riding a camel! I'd probably be freaked out, but I wouldn't miss an opportunity if a camel were right there. Someday maybe!! That's funny what the guy said about your picture! Yeah that's a compliment, you have aged very well :). Not saying the glasses and "Annie your bangs are PERFECT" days weren't attractive.

April 23, 2008 at 10:11 PM

 

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