I set the alarm for 4:45am and I’m up with the energy of a child, packing up and drinking coffee – that somehow took 30 minutes. I parked under the awning and walked to Skydive Dubai to check in at 5:30, and they don’t bother to weigh me because they’re in a holding pattern due to high winds. I don’t know how I missed the storm brewing through the enthusiasm pumping through my veins as I walked in on the crew eating breakfast, but through the tinted windows the flags are blowing about.
At 6:30, the crew gets in their swim gear to go to the dock and practice water landings – we, the worldly tourists, didn’t know this at the moment, but I could tell they weren’t flying today. I got my money refunded at 7am. I wasn’t choosing to wait around till 8:30 for their final no and wasn’t going to reschedule for Sept. 29. I can see why they delay the bad news – who wants to tell a room of 30 people – not today, as has been the update for the last two weeks.
I drove out to Atlantis at 6:30 and managed to take a wrong turn. I parked down the street from the hotel so I could enjoy the walk, but what I wouldn’t enjoy was being hassled for trying to see the garden as the guards thought I posed a threat to the comfort level of their guests – the ones still sleeping. I stop at the Heritage House area (between Bastakiya and Al Fahidi Fort) and don’t worry about parking because I don’t think I’ll be there long. There are empty alleys, closed doors, and courtyards with trees – like the Christ Thorn planted in 1890.
Of all the places that would have an open door – the Coffee Museum and shop – with a sign that says: Come in, We’re Awesome. I pass the majlis room to look at the antique sections on the ground floor and learn that, like anything else on this planet, coffee beans come in a hundred varieties. Upstairs there are books about coffee – The Pleasure of Coffee, and Coffee Floats, Tea Sinks; and different grinders like the ceramic wall mill from Germany. I walk past a thatched wall and more tan corridors back to the car.
Though I’ve been in this area before, and probably for that reason, I think that the Heart of Sharjah (its heritage village) is next door to Dubai’s (which is actually less than 2 km away from the Coffee Museum), but this doesn’t stop me from doing all the extra driving – and making me debate how much caffeine I need. I get to park closer and visit their Islah al-Umm School Museum, established for all education levels in 1935. There are plenty of pens (wooden sticks and ink pots) and Qur’an holders on display.
I wipe the sweat from my forehead for the hundredth time and watch the bus of tourists pull up. I found more closed museums and empty stalls. I get some things are ‘open’ but their timings vary in this heat and though a place may look closed you need to check the door and possibly call someone to open it for you, I don’t feel like waiting while I’m hungry. I go back into the Souq al-Arsa where the shopkeepers are begging for my attention, especially the restaurant, but when I ask for hot food I’m told it’s another hour. I’ll take date milk, basil seed drink, and large water for the road.
I drive back down south to return to Dubai’s Heritage Village. It was great last time at 8am on a weekend, but the view seems jaded, and hot, and not relaxing at 11am on a weekday. The village and its doors are open, but the only thing I see in this heat is the postcard stand. I realize I can’t judge one visit based on another and will remember those happy morning moments instead of this afternoon drudgery – and I now have more time to enjoy the rest of the country.
I stop at a mall in Sharjah for a coffee and a veg sandwich, that will be a two-parter for me because I filled up on three packs of biscuits for breakfast. My first site in Ajman will be their museum – the one that used to be a working fort. There’s the ticket window in the sun or the door in the shade where I’ll walk to pay my entrance fee. Guns, beds, Qur’an’s, pottery, jewelry, and fishing equipment – usual display items. Tear gas bombs (made in the U.S. in the description) and firecrackers, rockets, bombs, plastic bullets, and a truncheon used to disperse demonstrators – not usual.
In another display, I find myself grateful that they no longer require a wife to travel as her husband’s property like they did in the 60s. This also answers the “how to see under the burqa” question – they didn’t need to as long as the husband vouched as to which one was his, along with a number of children. Sometimes I debate going to yet another museum, but it’s ones like this that keep me coming back for the art, history, and culture that they portray in a unique way.
I park by Musalla Souk, less than a kilometer from the museum, and it’s closed. I mean the front door is open, but it looks like the prayer hour has been extended for months. I walk across the street to Rambo at 4pm and order a four-fruit juice and an egg paratha vs. the birthday cake faloodah and hotdog burger on the menu. Joining me for lunch is a table of six Asian women eating fried chicken with hamburger buns and dipping their fries in hummus – and they do get the faloodah for dessert. I wish more restaurants offered this variety of culture.
I leave Ajman, the tiny emirate with hard-to-find tourist attractions, to find my way to Umm Al Quwain Museum 31 km away. It’s in a fort that doesn’t look twenty years old, minus the patchwork that is a restoration of this building put together around 1768 for the local ruler which once was the Al Mualla family. It became a museum in 2000 and averages 120 visitors a day who come to see swords from Yemen and Aleppo, a necklace from Bahrain, and currency from Nicaragua and Indonesia — all gold. Inside these walls are stamps, dishes, and fashion of the Emirates and the regions they traded with from Al-Dour, Iraq to Rome, Italy.
The sun is threatening to set when I leave the museum and the timing couldn’t be better. I drive to the beach surrounding me and get the feeling of Beauty and the Beast – from the mansion on my right and the scared crab to remind me of Cogsworth, not from the pile of plastic on my left. As the sky goes from shades of bright orange to bluish-grey I meander the beach looking at the shells, skulls, and seaweed. I linger as the sun disappears to enjoy this peaceful place – and book a night at Hotel Royal Residence Branch down the street.
It’s two km away and I arrive after 7pm. I check in, find the pool, and return to room 7C to change and grab an embroidered towel. I thought about sheesha because I’ve been craving a smoke all day – and my luck the sheesha guy is also a Marlboro man. After that, I float in one of the two pools on one of their orange rings and watch a bat do touch and goes. I do a lap and climb out. I take a photo of the restaurant menu and though the prices are good I’m not in the mood for a whole chicken and rice.
I get back to my room at 8:15 and tried checking email but the service is blocked on my mailbox for security. I call the front office at 8:30 for the Palma Cafe timings. I’ll go there in the morning – at least it’s on the tourist list. I check locations for tomorrow in Ras al-Khaimah and message Caleb till he goes to sleep at 10pm. My computer says it’s 11:40 and I’ve been up since before 5am. I close my eyes, having been hungry the whole time, and watch as the room lights up in red, but not overwhelmingly so, and I climb under the fluffy blanket.
more pictures from today: