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How Not to Get Around Abu Dhabi

May 28, 2008
(The ceiling above the bar in the Emirates Palace Hotel.)

I’m back at the Emirates Palace bar, waiting ‘til 11:45pm when my car leaves for the airport. I scammed a shower in the hotel spa earlier, and then changed clothes and freshened up in the public bathrooms, so I’m feeling pretty good—better, at least, than after my super-aimless trek around Abu Dhabi this afternoon and evening.

(Me looking fat in my hotel room, with fruit.)

After the trade show I went back to the hotel, changed, and then got a cab to Hamdan Centre, which I believed to be more of a center than it turned out to be. I ate some weird chicken curry with no rice at a ramshackle café with a rattling air conditioner and then caught a cab to the Iranian Souk, or market. Only problem was, the driver spoke zero English and had no idea where the market was, even though I pointed it out to him on a map of the city—so we circled and drove for a half-hour, the driver calling people for directions all the while until we happened upon the not-at-all appetizing-looking, very minor market.

By that point I was sick of the whole enterprise, and knew I wouldn’t be able to get a cab from the very out-of-the-way and deserted-looking market back into the city, so I just told the guy to take me back to the Corniche, which is a waterfront esplanade/park that runs the length of Abu Dhabi.

He either didn’t know how to get back there or didn’t understand me, so eventually he stopped and passed me off to another cab, who took me back into the city with a relative minimum of confusion. He dropped me at the InterContinental—aka, a luxury Western hotel, which I’ve come to realize are the only foreigner-friendly waystations in this city—and from there I wandered, mostly along the Corniche, which is pretty and well-manicured and looks like it was built yesterday.

(Not the Corniche, but the Arabian Sea behind.)

The wind was high, and I sat down by the whipped blue water and watched the hazy, yellow Arabian sun set. I took a picture for an odd threesome—a Vietnamese woman who walked arm-in-arm with what appeared to be an English grandmother, and a German (I think) who I guess was the Vietnamese woman’s husband.

My feet hurt. I redid my shoes’ laces and set out again, trying to decide what to do until I had to be back at the Emirates to leave for the airport. Little did I know that it would take me about two hours to find a cab, as night fell and the streets became more crowded and, at sundown, the call to prayer echoed nasally from several mosques in a row, which men trickled into. I felt when this was happening that I was in a very different place indeed.

(A prayer mat, with compass to point towards Mecca, in my hotel room)

At one point during my walk I passed by a very modern building and then curved around its back, trying to find a taxi stand and, in the process, walking through what I took to be a VIP car park for the building. As I rounded the building’s backside and headed for the (security gate-fronted) exit, two Emiratis in white approached me. One spoke up and asked what I was doing, was I taking picture, what did I have in my pockets. I showed him the contents of my jacket pockets, a five-dirham note fluttering out in the process (his friend, who seemed more amused than my interrogator, was moving to help me grab the note as I picked it up), and he said No—all this in broken English, mind—what’s in your bag. I showed him—books, papers—and, seeming satisfied that I wasn’t a threat, dismissed me with, “OK. But next time you can’t come in.”

(Sheikh Zayed and his father, one of the primary founders of the U.A.E.)

I was pretty demoralized by this point—I thought maybe I should have been like, “Fuck you, man, this is a free country, I was just walking”; but then I thought, well, probably better not to say such a thing unless you’re certain just how free of a country it is that you’re in.

I kept walking, at this point actively trying to find a cab, which I had discerned only stopped at these little pull-off points, once a long block or so, and had no luck. There were four or five people waiting at each pull-off I stopped at, in no recognizable queue, all having as much luck as me, trying to flag down passing taxis, many of which were empty, with a half-assed, waist-level, arm-extended handwave. This did not work. I walked and walked, eventually passing the café where I ate earlier.

(A sign on the beach outside of my hotel.)

I got frustrated enough to stop, at a relatively empty turn-off occupied by just one other group, a white-veiled mom and her son, who looked to be ten or so. At one point, the mom looked at the son and brushed, with her fingers’ tips and a smile, the hair back from his forehead, and I thought OK maybe we are all the same.

Eventually the pair got a cab and I moved up to pole position near the head of the turn-off. Soon, however, a younger Indian or Pakistani guy stepped out in front of me and started the half-assed flagging (which, to be fair, I, too, had adopted). I was like what the fuck. In New York this move will get you knifed.

Finally another cab stopped at our flagging and the guy went to get in. I moved to the door as he did and said Excuse me, I was here first. Excuse me. He stared me down for a second and then backed off as I went to get, and got, in. I didn’t look back as I got in—though I had a brief flash of panic that the guy would brain me from behind—and said “Emirates Palace” to the driver, who sped off as I thought, “That guy must be thinking, ‘That fucking American….’” But, fuck it: Abu Dhabi or no, certain laws of the jungle—the cabstand line is inviolate—must still apply, or else all is lost.

The End.

(Sheikh Zayed’s personal entrance gate to the Emirates Palace Hotel. No, really.)
2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jake-Freedom permalink
    May 28, 2008 3:45 am

    Hahaha, what a great story man, I wish I had been with you dude.

    I had a very similar experience my first time out alone in Guatemala.

    Well done. You’ve got one more knick for your belt.

  2. scram. permalink
    May 30, 2008 3:06 pm

    I’m sure I’ll have my own experience to contribute once I get to Senegal. Till then, it’s all UofA Transit and blue skies for me.

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