Dubai Three Ways

Dubai: Opulence, extravagance, budget-busting you say? That’s definitely here, but it’s not all there is.

Here are three diverse ways I experienced this corner of the United Arab Emirates.


1. The Suburbs

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I opted to stay outside the city center with a sweet English expat family I found on airbnb. I had a small room to myself with breakfast, wifi, aircon, access to the swimming pool, and all their lovely travel advice.

The small neighborhood bakeries and barbeque stands had the tastiest food I had here by far. The mosque around the corner made for plenty of people-watching. After months in Australia and New Zealand I once again, happily, found myself in culturally foreign surroundings. Dubai has a reputation as a  modern city, but in the residential neighborhoods it’s best to be extra modest and aware of local custom.

Men and women shouldn’t touch or make much eye contact. I kept several feet between myself and men as much as possible, wore long billowy pants I’d picked up in Thailand that were perfect for the climate. I covered my shoulders (I was wearing a tank top) with a shawl. I felt extremely safe and very respected in the neighborhood, but being a bit demure and modest made me feel like less of a sore thumb.

 2. The City Center

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The tallest building in the world, a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree, massive malls, an indoor ski slope, and on and on.

I found the modern city of Dubai interesting in the way I’ve always found Las Vegas interesting, like, Wow, look what crazy randomness people decided to build in the middle of the desert!?!

Public transport is great, all air-conditioned (including the bus stops). Buses and the metro run frequently and have women and children only sections if you prefer. Worth a mention are the pink women-only taxis, driven by women in pink traditional dress no less!

3. The Dunes

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Wait, what? I did something cheesy and touristy? On a friend’s recommendation I decided to try a desert dunes safari and I have to admit, the longer I keep at this travel thing the more I appreciate activities like this. After a couple days of wandering on foot, on my own, it was nice to be picked up and taken on a somewhat cushy, pre-planned excursion, in the company of a group.

Dozens of white SUVs made quite a sight off-roading on the dunes across the orange-glowing sands. We stopped for photo ops and ended with dinner and entertainment. It was a full moon (or just about) the night I was out.

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There is really a lot to see and do in Dubai. If I’d had another few days I would’ve liked to ride a traditional wooden boat over to Bur Dubai (old Dubai), wandered the gold and jewelry markets, and visited the mosques. A gold plated cappuccino would’ve been nice, too.

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New Zealand Road Trip: A lesson in letting go

Back to New Zealand. Where were we?

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Rolling green hills, glow worm caves, waterfalls, and a rainbow. I jumped out of a plane and soaked in a hot spring.

The next three days were a lesson in letting go.

A road trip is the perfect metaphor for life. Ups and downs, lefts and rights, always what you make of it, and even the tough times are tolerable with a little flexibility and a sense of humor. The end of this road trip was true to form.

We went to see the hot mud pools at Wai-o-Tapu, but missed the last entrance time. (Neither of us was wearing a watch and didn’t seem to care.)

This is what we would’ve seen.

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This is what we did see. A view from the hill outside.


We shrugged. No worries. Much of the surrounding hillsides looked like this, like purgatory bursting out of its seams, and that was awesome enough.

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We stopped at some of the public viewing spots along the road to watch and listen to the mud blurping and blooping. Listen for yourself by clicking here.

The New Zealand Bermuda Tourist Triangle

Inevitably in any road trip (at least the ones I’m on) you’re bound to miss turns, get lost and change plans.

The day after our mud-chasing misadventures we drove north to Cathedral Cove and the Coromandel Peninsula. First Christoph fell asleep in the passenger seat with the road atlas on his lap. I drove along the windy roads lost in thought and forgot to make the turn.

By the time we arrived at Cathedral Cove it was pouring. We got out to stare at the coastline, wind slapping our cheeks with rain and cold.

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Cathedral cove, sans rain and wind.

Christoph took the wheel next. This time it was me who fell asleep in the passenger seat and he missed the turn for our lodging for the night.

Neither of us were phased. We looked at the map and got ourselves to the nearest town (Thames) and found somewhere else to stay.

Did it Even Matter?

Does it matter that we missed the places we meant to see? Does it matter if we didn’t stay at the most perfect hostel or find that amazing hidden gem of a cafe?

Simply, no.

Road trips are about being on the road, about the lessons and breakthroughs that come as you cover long stretches of highway and feel the earth zooming under you. Something about that motion is enough to shift one’s life in magical ways.

In between the missed turns and dozes, I had plenty of time to clear my head hypnotized by the dreamy green and blue New Zealand landscape. We stumbled across incredible vistas and had our breath taken by stunning scenery.

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Strangers Turned Friends Turned Strangers

Six days ago I’d picked up a stranger at the airport and we’d spent nearly that entire time in each other’s constant company. We’d talked about life, shared aspirations, dealt with each other’s morning grumpiness and (mild) personality quirks with care and patience. We’d navigated supermarkets and cooked nearly every meal together. We’d befriended other backpackers and shared rides, stories, travel tips, and bottles of wine over conversation late into the night.

There are so many ways it could’ve all gone very very wrong, but thanks to the fact that we’re both pretty even-keeled people it all went very right.

Now that it was over, we were strangers turned friends about to turn strangers again. I pulled up to his hostel in Auckland and we exchanged an awkward hug and fumbled over goodbyes.

Off to Dubai

In the next few days more goodbyes were said.

I’d been lucky to base myself out of a friend’s house while in New Zealand, an old friend from my graduate school and teaching days who was now living in Auckland with her husband and kids. We finished catching up over cups of coffee, took the kids out for ice cream cones and one last romp on the beach (for me at least).

Again I found myself grateful for the serendipity of friends living around the globe who have given me home while I travel.

My last night in New Zealand I repacked my bags for the 20 degree Celsius temperature difference of Dubai. Goodbye depth of winter, hello height of summer. Goodbye southern hemisphere, hello northern.

Here we go again.

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New Zealand Road Trip: Where the heck is everyone?

So, we traveled just slightly off the beaten path the rest of the day.

Not a soul! Not a peep! Just us, the road, and all this gorgeousness.

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blog_marokopa fallsMarakopa Falls.

Nope, no one here.

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Mangapohue Natural Bridge.

No one here either. But doesn’t it look like Hobbits or Teletubbies could jumpt out of those hills at any moment?

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And we actually chased a rainbow! And then drove through it!

Lesson? When road tripping in New Zealand, drive on the side roads and stop at the cool-sounding scenic stopping points on the road atlas. Yes, the road atlas, because I’m all kinds of old school when it comes to road trips.