I had really, really low expectations for this port. It was perhaps the most difficult port to find a tour; it also isn’t known for too many sites. This was the last tour I had arranged with Malik at Abu Dhabi Sight Tours; hopefully, it is also the last time I have to stress out about everyone showing up. I had been contacted by a sick couple the night before. They did the right thing and not only let me know ahead of time, they said that if the company insisted on charging for them that they would be there in the morning and would take the tour and pay for it if need be. Thank you, Becky and Jerry! When we went to breakfast before leaving the ship, I found a note from a different couple canceling. They had been added at the last minute and the tour company had gone above and beyond to provide a larger bus so that they could accommodate them. Now, they were not going to be on the tour. To be fair, one of them was sick. Nonetheless, it put me in an awkward position.
As usual, Clayton and I were up bright and early. The port itself was interesting. It is definitely a working port; probably the largest we have docked at. There were multiple tug boats pulled up along the waterfront; they all left in unison. The captain gives an introduction at each port; he explained that the tug boats were ferrying supplies to cargo ships that were in a queue to off-load their cargo. The tugs also help off-load supplies and personnel from the cargo ships. Also, just from pulling in to port, it was obvious that Fujairah was a much larger city than we expected. I was thinking it was much like Khasab, which was tiny. Instead, it was a large metropolitan city.
The port of Fujairah is not really set up well for cruise ships so there is no terminal building. Only buses for NCL tours were allowed near the ship. The rest of us had to take a shuttle to the port gate, which was quite a distance away. This was the first time that the “new” folks on the cruise have had to take a shuttle; I was hoping that everyone had read the spreadsheet and understood that we were meeting at the gate rather than by the ship. There was no wait for the shuttle bus so we were at the port gate by about 8:15. The gate was definitely not set up for tourism; we had a hard time finding anyplace to stand that was safe. We found an island between the lanes of traffic and decided to wait there. I had my “I am Heather” sign again so people that we had not met yet were able to locate us. I found two couple looking for tours that were able to join us, solving the problem of the 2 couples that had canceled (yeah!). Lots of people seemed to think I was someone “official”; people kept asking me about taxis, sights to see, etc. I guess they saw me directing people for the tour I had organized and figured I knew what I was doing (how wrong they were!). I was able to collect money and then send people to the bus to wait in comfort. Malik had strongly suggested that we order box lunches for $16 each because we might not have any place to eat otherwise. I collected money for these as well. Many chose not to order them; I only had 13 out of 31 that wanted them. More about this later.
The bus was much nicer today. Many of the middle-eastern countries have a bus called a coaster that has middle seats that fold down, so you have 4 across each row with no aisle. It is a tight fit and not the most comfortable way to tour. Our bus today was a full-sized tour bus. We were riding in style (and comfort)!
Our guide was Ben; he was from India. Our driver was from Pakistan. In the front of the bus was a sign that said, “Mr. Heather Philips”. Too funny! Because of my initiative in setting up tours, many people know me, so he has become Mr. Heather when we meet people that are on the tours. Since our first stop was the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (not to be confused with the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi), he talked about Islam. I was busy counting and organizing the money that had come in so was unable to jot notes (you really don’t think I remember everything I write about without jotting it down, right?). I heard him discuss the tenets of the Islamic faith: There is One God; you must pray 5 times per day; you must give to charity; you must fast until sundown during the month of Ramadan, and you must participate in a Hajj once during your lifetime. We made a brief photo stop; we were not dressed to go into the mosque which was fine since we had just been in the Grand Mosque.
A non-Islamic fact that I found interesting was that only 20% of the population here are natives; 80% are ex-pats. The previous Sheikh did not allow ex-pats; he was worried about their oil being stolen. Now the country couldn’t function without all of the immigrants. As we had learned in another port, ex-pats get a 2-year contract in the UAE. They must work for the same company for these two years. After that, they can extend their contract for 2 years at a time and can change companies if they so wish. There are great benefits to working here. Their salaries are tax-free and they receive a housing allowance and full medical benefits (no co-pay; no cost whatsoever). Their only cost that is not covered is that they must pay for the cost of educating their children. As previously mentioned, the natives income comes from oil but, they must work from 7:30 to 2:30 Sunday through Thursday. Most of these are government jobs.
Ben also reiterated that men can have up to 4 wives legally (he also mentioned that many men have more than 4 illegally), and must treat them equally. So, if a man buys a Ferrari for one wife, he must be the same for each wife. He said that women hold quite a bit of power here. Unlike in India when a woman’s family must provide a dowry, in UAE the women get the dowry when they marry. Many women here have multiple businesses and are highly educated. Women and men are treated equally.
We had now arrived at the Fujairah Museum. This would be our third Arabic Heritage Museum so we were wondering how it would compare to the others. Each of them is distinct and very well put-together. There were several galleries to walk through. There was a large stone chamber at the end of the first gallery; there was no sign identifying it. We assumed it was a tomb but it turned out to be a kiln. Oops!
The most interesting displays were those having to do with clothing and day-to-day life. I found it interesting what some of the uses for spices were. I was amused by the one claiming to get rid of demons. Also, the implement used to put kohl IN the eye! My pictures of the silver jewelry worn by women didn’t come out too well, but suffice it to say that the jewelry looked incredibly heavy.
As we left the mu523-28,1530-32,1534-45seum and drove the short distance to Fujairah Fort, Ben told us about Bajil, which was how they used to “air-condition” their houses. Basically, it was a tower on top of the home (like an old-fashioned swamp cooler). He also told us about the two types of trees seen in the area – date palm and a gaf(?) tree (wailing tree). The wailing tree (weeping willow, perhaps?) was used to tie camels to and to provide shade. Obviously, the date palms provided food.
Back in the day, men were fishermen and pearl divers. In the evenings men would smoke shishas outside while women and children would be inside their huts knitting. During the Depression, the pearl divers noticed that the pearls were changing color. Turns out that this color change was due to oil. Oil was discovered in 1958 and production started in 1960. Prior to this discovery, there was no currency here; everything was based on a system of barter.
We had a half hour to view and climb the Fujairah Fort which was built in the 16th century. I climbed up the tower to take some pictures of the surrounding area (note to self: don’t wear a skirt on a day you have to climb). I was surprised by how large and spread out the fort was. Most of the small out-buildings have been damaged (the British bombed them in the 20th century). Apparently, these buildings were homes for the soldiers.
On our way to lunch, Ben filled us in on a variety of interesting factoids regarding the UAE. For starters, banks pay no interest on money, nor do they loan money. Huh? What on earth is the purpose of a bank then? Apparently, the banks here are used to transfer money to other countries. People don’t put money in the bank; why would you?
The king of the UAE wants everything to be available on-line; later in the day, Ben told us about the elaborate systems in place to track people. More about that later in my post. In four years Dubai will be the most expensive city in the world (I thought it already was). There are 25 major projects being constructed right now. The World Expo will take place there in 2020; they will need to build an additional 1000 hotels in order to accommodate the crowds expected. Their airport is the largest in the world with 5 runways. There are actually two airports here, BBX and BWC. BWC is currently for cargo only that that will be changing since it will be needed for the additional people arriving here.
Ben told us that Dubai is not hot; he called it a “free sauna”. LOL! He told us more about the air-conditioned bus stops. To prevent people from loitering in the bus stops, the seats are specially designed to slip down after 10 minutes in order to make it too uncomfortable to sit in. An Indian company designed these and provided them to the king for free.
If you think this sounds like a pretty spiffy place to live you might be interested to know that you can rent a two to three-bedroom villa for a mere 150,000 Dirham per year. The Dirham is always pegged to the US dollar at the exchange rate of 3.65 dollars = 1 Dirham. So, your yearly rent would be almost $42,000/year. Chump change. There are meters for both water and waste water; no water is wasted here. These utilities will add from $275 to $550 to your monthly expenses.
Somehow from my communications with the company, I was under the impression that we would be out in the middle of nowhere and so needed to order the box lunch. It turns out that we would be eating at a modern mall in Fujairah. There was a food court so people could eat what they chose. Those of us that ordered box lunches were given the choice of a 4-piece dinner at KFC or a chicken sandwich meal at KFC. A $16 KFC meal when there were other, more interesting choices available. At this point, we were stuck.
We had an hour to eat and then return to the bus. I took a few pictures while walking to the food court. I took a picture of police watches; I thought it was a police kiosk until I saw what was being sold. I got in trouble by mall security; I was told I could not take pictures inside stores (or apparently outside them, since it was a kiosk). Properly chastised, we continued to the food court. Ben showed us our lunch choices. The cost of the meal was 24 AED. So, we paid $16 for a meal that cost around $7. Wow! Now people were really unhappy. I talked to Ben and told him that it was ridiculous for us to pay more than double what the actual cost of the meal was. He said he didn’t have the authority to change it; he was told to collect a certain amount of money and that was all he had the authority to do. I asked him to contact someone at the tour company. The person I had been emailing with was still in Egypt, so he called someone else. I spoke to him and explained the situation; he said only Malik could change the agreement. I said that if Malik didn’t call back, our tour would be over and we would be out the money with no way of getting it back. He told me that he would call me back.
He was unable to get ahold of Malik so stepped up to the plate and made a decision himself: we would pay for the tour, but the cost of the lunches would be removed from the table. In other words, I gave the money to Ben to pay for the lunches and was able to refund the difference to the people that did the non-box lunch. It was the only blight on a pleasant day of touring. I am very glad that the person I spoke with made the correct decision and all were satisfied. I don’t know how happy Malik will be, but that is not my concern!
Back to the random facts section! We were now driving back to the port and so Ben talked to us about a variety of topics (and answered questions from the peanut gallery as well). Ben is Catholic; he said there are 500,000 Catholics in Dubai. Since this is a Muslim country, crosses are not allowed on the exterior of the church. Also, Sunday services are held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, since Friday and Saturday comprise the weekend here. The same sermon is given all three days, so people attend the service on the day that is most convenient for them. Ben sends his daughters to Catholic school at a cost of 25,000 Dirhams per child per year (plus books, supplies, and activity expenses). His girls are taught German, French, and Arabic along with the usual subjects.
He talked a bit about the weather. Fujairah sometimes sees light snow in the winter, but the temperature is normally around 12⁰ to 15⁰C. Light fog can come in from Iran. The electricity here is generated from diesel. Someone asked why they don’t use solar power; obviously, there is plenty of sunshine! Nuclear power is being looked at as an alternative energy source as well as solar. There is a place called Masdar City in or near Abu Dhabi that uses solar power exclusively, including using it to power automobiles.
Locals live in separate areas from ex-pats. The locals (with their oil wealth) often have several villas in different cities. Did you know that all cars here are less than 4 years old? The king has declared that all cars must be destroyed after 4 years. No junkers on the road here!
The Sheikh’s son is the crown prince. The crown prince is not chosen based on birth order, as is true in many monarchies; the crown prince is chosen based on education and wisdom.
On Friday, Muslims have breakfast with their family; ALL of their family. So, if a man has 4 legal wives and 3 illegal wives, and each has 7 children, he has a group of 49 to feed.
If a Muslim entertains you, you will be given Arabic coffee and dates. If you want a second cup, you will also be offered a third. If you have a fourth, you will be given a fifth. You see, you must only drink an odd number of cups of coffee. Otherwise, it is bad luck.
When Muslims perform ritual washing, they used to use sand. Now water is used. Normally, daily prayer takes place 5 times. However, if someone dies, a 6th prayer is added. No tears are shed for the dead. The attitude is, “God has given; now God has taken.” In the Muslim calendar, which is a lunar calendar, it is the year 1437. I posted a picture of a clock seen in the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi; it alternates between “normal” time and lunar time.
There are six Sunni Muslim nations in the GCC (Gulf Corporation Council): Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, and Bahrain. Shia Muslims have a different corporation (countries such as Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Iran, etc.).
The most interesting thing Ben talked about was the plans for the government to embed a chip in your hand. Currently, all those living in the UAE must carry an Emirates ID card that contains fingerprint, ear and eye (retinal) scans as well as a tracking device. That’s right; the government tracks your movements at all times. This is Big Brother taken to the extreme!
Our final tour stop was the Friday Market. Of course, the Friday Market is open all week long! The name comes from the fact that the local people shop there for deals on Friday since that is the start of their weekend. As we approached, it started to sprinkle a tiny bit. It only rains for a half-hour or so per year, so this was an unexpected event!
This is the first market that we have been to that did not sell scarves! There were plenty of carpets for sale, from small 1 ft. x 1 ft. squares to room-sized carpets. Many of the stalls seemed to specialize in cheap plastic toys (think dollar store) or inflatable toys. The fruit stands were really interesting. They had the cutest little bananas as well as many unique fruits that I had never seen nor heard of before. There were also several selling a variety of plants – too bad we couldn’t bring home a lemon tree! Pottery shops were popular as well, but it would be virtually impossible to bring home something like that as a souvenir. I loved browsing the houseware stalls. There were beautiful tea and coffee sets as well as unique cookware.
The one downside to the market was a lack of bathroom facilities. Ben suggested we stop at a restaurant, which is what we did. The facilities were…basic. The men having lunch were snickering at me as I went in and continued snickering as I left. Desperate times call for desperate measures. All I can say is that good, strong thigh muscles are necessary. I should probably practice the technique for when we reach Asia; I have heard that the facilities in some countries there are very basic. By the way, check out the eyes on the cat.
We went into a honey and date shop by where the bus was parked. I really wanted to purchase some dates but was concerned about getting them through customs and immigration when we return to the states. We had to settle for a bag of chocolate covered date and nut candy. The chances it will last until the end of our cruise run from slim to none; Clayton has already broken into the supply.
And, we are back to our final random facts section of the day. This country is ultra clean and has very, very little crime. I was curious about the penalties for crimes – are the punishments so harsh that people do not break the law? That doesn’t seem to work in the US; why would it work here? First of all, there are cameras everywhere that record your every move. If you are suspected of a crime you are shown the video evidence and asked if you admit guilt (now there’s a rhetorical question). If you do and are contrite, you may get away with a fine. If you deny it, they show you no mercy. There are no police cars on the road here; there is no need since you are being watched on cameras. Fines are all computerized (remember, the king here wants everything computerized).
The biggest crime in the UAE is bouncing a check. If you do, you will be sent straight to prison.
There is compulsory military service here. One child per family has to serve for 3 years (men and women both serve). Since there are so many children in each family, often more than one wants to serve.
The random facts section is wrapping up with a discussion of the wonders of Dubai. Remember that there are 4 artificial islands there; 3 palm islands and “The World”. The World is made up of 300 smaller islands. There are underwater homes that are being built. Dubai has 44 malls; each one unique. During the month of Ramadan, the malls open at dark and stay open until 3 or 4 am because, during Ramadan, everything takes place at night. The Queen Elizabeth 2 is being turned into a floating hotel and will be parked on Palm Island. There is gambling in Dubai, but there may be a casino in the QE2 (the king doesn’t want to deprive the tourists!). On New Year’s Eve, over 5,000,000 people pack Palm Island to watch a 45-minute long fireworks display.
Whew! The random facts section is over. Ben did a great job as a tour guide. In a port that doesn’t have that many interesting sights, a good tour guide is so very important. I loved hearing his random facts; I find it so interesting to learn about the culture of a foreign land by being given information beyond the typical facts/figures. We were back to the ship around 3 pm. We found a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries in our cabin with a card from Guest Services. I am not sure why we received these, but I am not complaining!
I have “hit the wall” in terms of tours and tour coordination. I am so glad that we are not on a formal tour tomorrow! We will be back in Muscat, Oman (we were here last Friday). Originally, we had planned on returning to the mosque, but after seeing the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi have decided against it. I am sure it is quite beautiful, but it can’t top the other mosque. So, we will walk along the corniche to the souk and do some bargaining with the shopkeepers. We shall see what treasures we end up with (if any)! And, we will go in search of free wi-fi. If successful, I can upload my last 3 blog posts. If not, we will head back to the ship to relax.
After Muscat, we have two sea days and then will be in India. It will be a very interesting time to be in India. I don’t know if you have paid attention to what is going on with the Rupee there, but a couple of weeks ago, the government decided to pull all 500 and 1000 Rupee notes, making them instantly worthless. People can trade in about 4,000 Rupees (about $60 worth) per day at a bank. The lines are so long that a couple of deaths have taken place. Families can’t buy food and are starving. Many of the people that are on the tours I have set up for India exchanged money for Rupees ahead of time and now have hundreds and hundreds of dollars-worth of worthless notes. I feel extremely fortunate that we decided to wait to get Rupees until we arrived. We won’t be able to access ATMs (just as impossible to get to as banks), but the tour company will allow us to use a credit card or pay in US dollars, so we will be fine. I will definitely include my observations about the situation when I blog about the visit.