As I hope the episode shows, there is really no place on earth like Dubai, and no Boomtown booming bigger. The scale and ambition of the various developments boggle the mind, but in terms of comfort, food and service, everything is so top-notch it's no wonder tourists are making their way over in droves.
We flew in after a couple weeks in Ethiopia, and the contrast between the two countries gave us cultural whiplash. You may notice on the show that each episode stands alone, i.e there is no mention of where we were before, and where we head to next. So you can't really grasp how happy we were to see a modern, beautiful hotel after our time in Ethiopia - it's like going from instant noodles to a steak house. The excellent Qamardeen is owned by a South African hotel chain, the same hotels I used to holiday with my family when I was a kid, so there was a weird sense of nostalgia too.
The hotel even gave me some biltong (South African beef jerky).
How hot is Dubai? The temperature cracked 40C degrees when I went sandboarding. You don't have to be mentally prepared for the challenge, you have to be mentally insane. I was practically dry heaving after the first run, and we did a couple, because as you can see, the board didn't exactly deliver on the thrill-a-minute adventure I hoped for. I had fine desert dust piled up in every orifice you can think of (and the ones you can't), a bad cold kicking in, and the heat pounding me - ah, the things we do for TV! And of course, the sequence looks amazing, Sean and Mary and Peter once again making me look like a bloody superhero..., I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
After crashing in the blissful air-conditioned hotel for a few hours, it was off to the snowboarding, which was the first time I'd strapped in for a few years and wasn't about to attempt any daring tricks. Sean, our camera guy, is one of the top ski cameramen on the planet, so he thought nothing of skiing backwards down the hill holding the camera, and all the time I'm just seeing him fall backwards and destroying the not-very-cheap HD cam. Not likely. Living in Vancouver comes with a few advantages, and one of them is it takes about 30 minutes door-to-door for me to snowboard the local mountains, which are pretty big and have loads of runs. Ski Dubai was great for the story, but kind of like playing tennis with a 4 year old...fun, for the first few minutes.
My story wrapped up, the show switched to Julia who was hurting on her story hunt. Although she was going through hell, you can really get a glimpse into the pressure we were under to find things to do that work well as a newspaper article, and a TV show. Sometimes, you have to take what you can get, and no irony that it turned out to be a shopping mall - there's one everywhere you look in Dubai. You also see part three of Robin getting woken up with a camera in his face (see Venezuela and Colombia). We must have left hair and make-up in Africa.
Exploring the Palm was interesting, actually seeing the reality of a concept that I truly did think was a joke when I first heard about it. And we could see The World in the distance too, dozens of islands shaped like the continents so it resembles a map of the world from above. The ambition is contagious! I contacted the local Gulf News, the only daily newspaper I've ever seen printed on thick glossy paper, and pitched them some stories. That's now turned into a regular column, so I'm pretty happy with how it all worked out. Whether Dubai will turn into a major world financial and tourist center, or a boomtown gone bust, we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I'm happy to be a regular contributor away from the heat, dust and dreams.
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