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Chapter 3 – Wary Gatekeepers

 One could easily think that the system here operates with very little bureaucracy, but you may eventually find that you have misjudged. For example, the hotel had not even demanded a deposit from me. On the other hand they had been quite happy to hold on to my passport, promising to give it back after checkout and I suppose after all my bills had been paid up. This arrangement should indeed make sense especially for a newly arrived person with no local currency because as I have previously mentioned, it may be illegal for any commercial enterprise to accept money in any other form other than the local currency. If you needed to do business, you must first take your foreign currency to the money exchange shop and you could always find one every ten yard or so.

The front office manager at the Al Arraf is a serious-faced guy. I somehow got the impression that he had been secretly observing me, and he didn’t look like he’d so far been able to work out what I was about. I think it looked to him like I was in the wrong hotel. This one is normally used by traders because of proximity to the market, and I certainly didn’t look like a trader. The short surly concierge who perpetually hung out at the reception didn’t appear to trust me a lot either, regardless of the fact that my luggage showed I had flown Business Class. I think they’d seen a lot between them to trust nobody.
This morning I again went to a money changing shop, and came back to pay the manager a week deposit upfront. He appeared doubly discomfited; the concierge I think looked at me with a little more respect. I resolved to enjoy their admiration a little bit more so I sat in a chair in the lobby and read some newspapers and magazines from the rack. A good number of those publications were in English, and many of them displayed colorful advertisements of tours available within and around Dubai. From the advertisements I learned that you could book a bus tour which took you around Dubai, showing you the popular places which could be of interest to tourists. This did not interest me; I was here on an adventure and did not feel like having anyone ferry me about like an invalid. Nonetheless, I made notes of the stops for this bus trip, resolving to visit them myself in my own good time and to explore for as long as I wished, and not within the tour operator’s time schedules.
There was also an assortment of other tours in the advertisements – a dhow cruise, dolphinarium tour, helicopter tour, hot air balloon, yacht, seaplane trips as well as the desert safari. I am not a very trusting person, and generally would not permit anyone to take me on any

unnecessary adventure off firm ground, so most of those were not up for consideration. I finally called a couple of operators and was happy to be booked the Desert Safari and also the Dhow Cruise Dinner for the next day and the day after. I found out later that the fees I had negotiated were considerably more than was charged by some other operators, but I was the not-so-wise tourist, was I not? Shouldn’t I have shopped round first? But common sense eventually advised that I had been lucky to get a tour at all at such short notice.
Leaving the front office manager and the concierge doubly impressed, I went out for a walk around the district, exploring shop after shop. As I had previously mentioned, the entire district was all shops and hotels, so this was not a task that could be completed in a single day. I returned to Al Arraf in the afternoon to rest my feet for a couple of hours. Near about five in the evening, I again headed for the Al Sabkha Marine Transport Station on Baniyas Road which ran somewhat parallel to the Dubai Creek in these parts. From this ferry station, you could take a boat ride to Bur Dubai on the other side of the creek for only one Dirham. You could also take leisure canoe rides for just a little more money. On the far side were bigger boats, which were kitted out for other uses, which I would later discover in a couple of days.
I did not trust the brownish grey water of the creek, the drivers of the boats which bobbed dangerously on the water I trusted even less, so I decided against the rides and settled for taking photographs. I was becoming quite used to the Al Afghan and its friendly manager. This night again, I visited to get an order of the lovely polaw, this time with mix barbecue. Again I took my purchase back to the hotel to eat while I tried to write a story.

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