Not long before Christmas, Matt and I took a ferry over the Persian Gulf from Iran to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Sad to leave the Iranian hospitality behind, but happy to put aside the headscarf and wear shorts again, we embarked on our second ferry ride of the trip.
On our first day in Dubai, we realized how much we missed the modern shops, the clean roads and the fast pace of the western world. After two months in Iran it felt like coming a big step closer to the world we know. We love getting to know different cultures and customs, but after almost 6 months on the road it was lovely to be in a fancy, modern city again. As 85% of the inhabitants of Dubai are non-Emiratis, all sorts of religions can be found there. For this reason, Christmas is hugely celebrated in Dubai although the official religion of the country is Islam. Good for us!
We enjoyed watching the fancy cars of the rich, swimming in actual swimwear without a headscarf, having fast Wi-Fi again, strolling around Christmas markets and shopping in the 1,200-shops-mall so much that we ended up spending over a week in Dubai. As we left, we realized that during the week we spent there, we met people from all over the world, but no Emiratis.
Finally, on our second day of riding after Dubai, an Emirati couple stopped us on the roadside and invited us to a desert festival for dune-racing, drifting, moto crossing, camel and horse racing and paragliding. Of course we accepted. Emirati people are usually quite wealthy. The Government supports its people in many ways; they don’t have to pay taxes, no school fees, no house rents in some cases and they receive 20,000 dollars when they marry. The most obvious place you can see their wealth is in their cars. So we packed our bikes on their brand-new, super-clean, overly-huge car and drove to their hometown from where we would drive to the desert festival the next day.
The couple was dressed traditionally: Abdullah was wearing a white long gown with a red and white turban on his head and Fatime was wearing a black gown, a black headscarf and a black facial scarf that only showed her eyes. In the car I chatted to her and she explained to me that she isn’t Abdullahs only wife. In the United Arab Emirates, men can legally have up to 4 wives. When I told her that in our countries, this is not allowed and that I am Matts only girlfriend, she admitted that she wish it was like this here too.
Fatime is Abdullahs “Madame Nr.2”, as he calls her. With Madame Nr.1 he has been married for 15 years and has 4 children. With Madame Nr.2 he has been married for 3 years and has no kids yet. He owns two houses, one with Madame Nr.1 and one with Madame Nr.2, which is usual for Emirati men with multiple wives. We dropped Madame Nr.2 at her house and drove to Madame Nr.1s house to meet her and his kids. On the way he asked us to not mention Madame Nr.2 to Madame Nr.1, otherwise she would be jealous and cry all night. Life’s hard with two wives.
In the house we met Abdullahs lovely kids. 4 kids is considered a very small family in the UAE. Later on our trip we met a man who is 75 years old, has 3 wives and 25 children in total. The oldest one is 55 and the youngest is 1 year old.
We had dinner with our host family and learnt how it is done in the Emirates: As well as in Iran, they eat sitting on a carpet without a table or chairs. What was new for us, was that everyone eats from the same tray by hand. It is important to only touch the food with the right, clean hand. The left hand is considered dirty for Arabs, it is the hand they use to wash their body. What sounds easy is quite demanding, after the meal it was easy to tell where us tourists sat by all the rice and yogurt that we spilt on the carpet.
After dinner Abdullahs daughters brought in a bowl, soap and a jar of warm water to wash our hands. The rests in the tray were carried outside for the butlers and nannies of the house, which made Matt and me feel very sorry but there was not much we could have done. Later, we had Arabic coffee with cardamom and dates around a bonfire in the garden. We slept in their house and in the next morning we drove to the desert festival in Liwa.
I was talking about Emirati cars before, now imagine a desert-buggy, drifting and motocross festival out in the desert. The festival area looked like a huge playground for rich men. The festival takes place in Liwa because of the tallest sand dune in the world: The Mureeb Dune. We slept at a camp that consisted of five big sleeping tents, one kitchen trailer, one bathroom trailer with golden taps and golden mirror frames, one main dining tent with a flat screen TV and 4 Indian and Pakistani chefs and butlers.
Soon we got to know Abdullahs friends and got invited for a ride around the festival in a desert-buggy. We accepted without having any idea what we were getting ourselves into. As Abdullahs friend tightened and double checked our seat belts and gave us headsets to wear, we started to understand that this will probably not be a peaceful ride around the neighborhood. The engine started loudly, and a 50Cent-song started playing even louder in our headsets. Over the headset our new friend let us know that his desert-buggy has 750 horse power and by the look on Matts face, I could tell that that must be a lot. We drove straight to the Mureeb dune and before I was able to say that I would prefer to exit the car and watch from outside, we were up there. We drove – better said flew – up a 300meter sand dune in what felt like two seconds. Insane.
In the following days we explored the coffee shops at the festival, watched drifting shows, went paragliding and enjoyed camel, horse and falcon races. There was so much to see that we decided to stay longer and spend New Years Eve in Liwa.
One day before New Years Eve we got to know a Swiss family who stayed with a young Sheikh (member of the Royal family of the UAE). The unbelievably rich Sheikh invited us to his NYE-Party and of course we accepted. Before twelve o’clock Matt and I were reflecting 2017 and where we were celebrating the end of this amazing year: In the middle of the desert, at a motor sport festival in the luxurious tent of a Sheikh. Who would have thought!
HAPPY NEY YEAR to all of you. We will spend the whole year travelling and sharing our stories with you, can’t wait!
Matt and Jasi