December 2001. Somewhere on my computer is a folder full of global destinations I can’t do reports on. The visits in question were all over fifteen years ago and the photos are… well, I can’t pull any punches… they’re crap. This was back when I had a camera that a) wasn’t digital and b) I didn’t know how to use. It’s always a source of great frustration when I have to abandon a potential article. My long ago trip to Dubai very nearly ended up in the reject folder. But somehow, after much editing and plenty of goodwill, I just about managed to scrape together a narrative with five passable shots. Here I am outside The Howard Johnson Hotel, my Dubai base.
December 2001. I flew into Dubai from Qatar, where my friend Scott and I were teaching English. The flight time from Doha was a laughable one hour and five minutes and after checking into our hotel we wasted no time in heading out to explore. I remember Jumeira Beach being a modest little ghost beach, so much so that I wondered if we’d even meet another person to take our photo. These days Jumeira is a high-end stretch reserved for guests of its five star hotels. One of these palatial joints, The Burj Al Arab, is a so-called seven-star resort with assigned butlers, revolving beds, chauffeur-driven Rolls Royces and gold-plated iPads.
December 2001. Scott and I packed a lot into our three-night stay. We bought camcorders in the electrical district in preparation for a movie we never got around to making. We played pool at a bar called The Billabong and had lunch at The Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. This photo was taken at The Dubai Museum, which is housed within the city’s oldest structure, Al Fahidi Fort. Charting the city’s evolution from a pearling village to global financial powerhouse, the museum’s exhibits walked us through Bedouin culture, the fishing industry, the discovery of oil and important archeological findings. I don’t remember why this bed was important, I just recall the accompanying sign telling me not to lie on it.
December 2001. You can’t leave Dubai without crossing the creek (Al Khor) in a water taxi, known locally as an abra. We timed our visit for sunset, which was suitably spectacular, despite my camera’s opposing testimony. I also remember the contrasting mix of Dubai’s traditional past and turbo-paced present-future. There were wooden shacks, marble minarets and cloud-piercing skyscrapers alongside at least a dozen under-construction high-rises. “Dubai changing changing changing” our driver told us, with a disapproving tut. I wonder if even he could have imagined just how much change there’d eventually be.
December 2001. I can barely remember where this photo was taken, though I’m pretty sure it was near a park of some description. I was deep into my Abbey Road phase at the time, so I roped Scott into a little homage to the famous London landmark. I named the photo Abu Dhabi Road, which would have been quite witty had it not been an altogether different city.
For more on my adventures in the region, take a look at my article on the Qatari capital Doha.
I’ve also written a short story series about my time there called The Qatar Collection.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.