friends

Short Trip to Abu Dhabi

I had a little bit of time on the way back from Borneo and Singapore, and I decided to drop in and see a friend in Abu Dhabi.  I hadn't seen her in four years, since we worked at the same hotel in the US Virgin Islands.  I enjoy maintaining friendships no matter how far apart they may be, it is important for me to show that I care and that I am committed.  Also, it's a good way to see the world!  When you have friends all over the world, it's good to use that as an excuse to check out a part of the world you might otherwise not have.  In this case, I was able to go to Abu Dhabi for a couple of days, and see an amazing person at the same time.  

Upon arrival, the heat was effectual right from the start, you can feel the wall of thick hot air as soon as you walk out of the airport.  The day I landed, the high temperature for the day was about one hundred and eighteen degrees (forty eight Celsius) and humid.  As I strolled out of the airport I was surrounded by many men asking me if I needed a taxi, and what type I was looking for.  This is where I made my first mistake, and I'm still kicking myself over it, I got ripped off and knew it the whole time.  A typical taxi into the city should cost about a hundred AED at the most, but mine charged one fifty and put another person in the car with me after repeatedly saying he wouldn't.  I don't mind sharing a ride, but only if it is going to discount my cost, it didn't and I was the sucker.  Take a normal taxi if you can, just wave them down and don't get caught up with one of those swindlers.  A ride back to the airport from town will be cheaper, usually around sixty AED depending on where in the city you are staying.  The other thing to note is they don't have Grab or Uber there like they do in Dubai, cash only taxi's are all that is offered, or Careem which is an expensive limo app.  There are ATMs right as you walk out of the airport, so stop here and stock up if you have fees for each withdrawal.  The ride takes about forty minutes if you are staying downtown, and make sure to screenshot your destination just in case the driver doesn't know where your place is, or which one you are talking about.  

One big piece of advice I will give you, something that is probably common knowledge but just slipped my mind, don't go here in the summer!!  If you can, do a winter trip and knock out Dubai and Abu when the weather is a tad more pleasant, summer is brutal.  When I first posted my pictures on social media, most of my friends had the same observation, no people in the streets.  Yes, the silly white guy was the only one walking around taking pictures in this atrocious heat, everyone else was at the mall or home comfy in their AC.  I spent about forty minutes walking outside, and that was a stretch, it was almost unbearable but I had to push on through with my limited time there.  I walked through Heritage Park, and then on to the waterfront which was lined with desert dunes on one side, and fishing boats along the Persian Gulf.  It was a different site for me, I had always wanted to be in the Middle East, and see the Persian Gulf, being here for real was quite breathtaking.  I spent some time admiring the sea, watching boats go by, and taking pictures in a shady spot that I had found until I had enough. Once I was finished I walked back to the Corniche neighborhood where my hotel was, and found a supermarket called Grandiose which had the necessary snacks for my room.  One thing I noticed at night was that people really come out when the sun goes down.  The trails were full of bikers, joggers, and roller bladers, and the beaches were full of volleyball games, frisbee, anything outdoors once it cools a bit.

That night I was supposed to finally meet up with my friend who I had flown all the way there to see but we had a snafu in meeting up and we had to postpone to the next day.  Luckily I had backup plans, although the first one I wasn't so sure I would be able to carry out.  That plan was to buy a bottle of wine, and stay in my room and have a little wine and get some photo editing and writing done, but finding take home wine would prove to be tricky.  The middle east is mostly a "dry" section of the world, with many countries not offering any alcohol whatsoever, others only offer at restaurants and bars but not to take home.  I scoured the internet looking for some answers of what I could do, and I came up with a solution and decided to give it a try.  I found a store next to the bar I wanted to go to that was called "high Spirits," my kind of place!  They had a wonderful selection of beers, spirits, and a decent wine selection as well.  There are very very few stores like this, and typically they won't sell to non-locals, so there is a little trick you can use to get passed that.  If you tell them that you live there and work for the Embassy they will sell you whatever you want.  I snagged a bottle of red from Italy for around twelve US dollars, and proceeded back to my room for the night.

I returned to my room and poured a glass, and proceeded to get to work.  My other backup plan also materialized at the same time, and I had to bail on my staying in night, but I'm very glad I did.  My brother had a friend from college that had been living in Abu Dhabi for the last five years, and he was able to connect us with the wonders of modern technology (Facebook). He was free luckily, and wanted to take e out and show me the nightlife that the city had to offer.  He came to my hotel, and we walked to a "western" bar across the street called Rock Bottom (I used to work at a brewery with the same name, so it had a certain charm for me). This place had an American cover band, cheap drinks, and apparently a lot of women of "negotiable affection" if you catch my drift.  We had one drink there, and he wanted to move on and show me the real Abu Dhabi.  He took me to a bar called "Asia de Cuba" which was a very nice place right on the beach.  A reoccurring theme started here, which was them not letting me in with shorts on.  This town is extremely strict with their dress codes, even though it's unbelievably hot outside, no flip flops, no shorts, and some places even require long sleeves as well.  This happened at a few places before he decided to just take the long trip out to the well known Irish pub called McGettigan's which could care less what you are wearing.  This place was crawling with westerners, loud music, tons of space, and random sports on TV.  We had a corona and watched Korfball, ever heard of it?  I hadn't either, it's like a combination of volleyball and soccer, very strange, but entertaining at least.  After a lot of talking, and many beers, we decided to go for a nightcap a little closer to my hotel, guess where we went?  Yeah, back to Rock Bottom where there were even more women of negotiable affection at this time, and the music was better with a little help from Carlsberg, Tiger, and Coffee Tequila...

The hotel I stayed at had a brilliant breakfast buffet which was mighty helpful the next morning as I was in dire need of something close to the breakfast I have at home.  After breakfast I was finally lucky enough to be able to meet with my friend who I had flown all the way there to see. She works at the St. Regis and we were able to meet at the mall that is attached to her office (there are malls attached to everything there).  Right next to her was the Nation Galleria across from the beach which was full of shops and restaurants.  We walked around for a bit, and decided on LOL for lunch, also known as Leopold's of London, fantastic food with an amazing view.  Then she took me on a wonderful tour of the St. Regis hotel, if you have it in your budget I would highly recommend staying there, it is one beautiful place in an amazing location.  In addition to the strict dress codes across the city, any form of public affection is also banned. So after not seeing each other for four years, and saying goodbye till who knows when, we were not allowed to hug, which was quite troubling but such is Abu Dhabi.

I had a late flight, so I decided to leave a little early and hit a few spots on the way to the airport.  I went to Emirates Palace, Etihad Towers, Corniche Beach, and walked around that area a bit before heading to the airport.  Once at the airport I was told repeatedly by many that I would not be able to board the plane in shorts, so make sure you bring some long pants and long sleeves in your bag just in case.

I was there for one reason, and that was seeing my friend, and I also wasn't there for very long. If I had some more time I would have done a desert tour with camel riding, sunset, and traditional dinner in a tent.  There is also dune surfing, ATV riding, and 4x4 trucks you can rent and tear across the desert in.  When I return at the end of this year I'm looking to attend most of those, and possibly even drive up to Dubai for New Years Eve which is a big deal apparently, and only about an hour and fifteen minutes drive if you are okay with driving on the left.  All in all it was a great experience, and I'm returning because I want to see my friend again, and I would love to experience all that UAE has to offer from the beach and sea to the desert, and I will make sure to bring pants this time.

Dive Equipment: What you should rent vs What you should buy

For divers, there is always the issue of what we should own, and what we should just rent once we get to the shop.  Every diver is different of course, but there are certain items you should try and purchase on your own and have with you for every dive.  Other components might not be necessary, and could be troublesome to travel with.  Here I will highlight my thoughts on five items, and whether or not you should purchase or rent them.

1) Regulator - Own

Having your own regulator is important for many reasons.  First and foremost, you are in charge of cleaning it, and only your saliva is going in and out.  One of the weirdest things was using regulators at the shops that had been breathed in by a hundred people, spitting and drooling all the way, yuck.  You also don't know the cleaning procedures of the shops, although I would say most follow proper techniques, its still strange putting your mouth on something hundreds of others have.  With your own regulator, only you are breathing out of it, and you can clean it any way you please.  They roll up nice as well, and if you have a decent case they can be incredibly easy to transport, fitting in a backpack, or taking up a small space in your suitcase.  They aren't cheap, but they are totally worth it if you dive often, or if you just don't want to share a breathing tube with a hundred people.

2) BCD - Rent

Having your own BCD for some is an accomplishment, and it proves that you are a seasoned diver and in turn know what you are doing.  Some are quite particular and want their own custom BCD with their own clips, and get comfortable knowing everything about it.  That is completely understandable, but if you are traveling to dive you might want to consider renting. Most shops carry the same one you will purchase, and it's not very expensive to rent equipment typically.  While having your own is great, it can be bulky and laborious in your luggage, taking up valuable space while flying.  If you have a preference I would just contact the shop and ask if they carry that style or maker, and if not ask what is similar.  Most of them are engineered the same way, and the companies stick to a similar design plan so you won't be terribly uncomfortable.  

3) Mask - Own

Having your own mask is imperative.  Every shop has an assortment of masks available, but you don't know which one isn't going to leak, or fog up.  With your own mask, you can work out the kinks and break it in and know exactly whats's going to happen once you are down below.  Vision is kind of important down there as you can imagine or have experienced, and there is nothing more annoying than a fogged-up and leaky mask. With your own you can burn it, rub toothpaste on it, and make sure it won't fog or leak. It's also very easy to travel with, but keep it in the case as much as possible as it can get scratched easily.

4) Fins - Rent

I actually went back and forth on this, and this one is kind of a combination of the two.  If you are able to dive locally, I would absolutely own your own pair, or even if you aren't traveling far to dive I would own my own.  Fins don't take up a ton of space, but they can be damaged in transit, and the shop might have the exact same pair available upon arrival.  Again, I would ask the shop if they have that make or a pair that is similar. Shops usually have an assortment of fins, but if they have many customers there is a chance that your pick is taken out for the day. I would own your own booties however because they are as small as socks, and then you can take out rental fins but have your own socks which solves any issue.  So for lengthier trips just rent and save the space.

5) Wetsuit - Own

This is a no-brainer, in fact I will double down and say that you should NEVER use a wetsuit from the shop.  Not everyone shares the same etiquette as you might, and as you know it is very hard to get certain "fluids" out of a wetsuit.  Even if you own your own I would highly suggest that you hold it during the dive and never relieve yourself in your suit.  Not only will it fade faster, it will smell and is just not good overall for the suit or you.  Rental suits can carry a lot of bacteria, and have strong odors, especially if they aren't cleaned properly.  So buy your own and keep it clean.

Did you know?  Hypothermia can happen in warm waters, even Caribbean seas that have water temperatures in the eighties.  If the water is cooler than your body temperature (which we all know is 98.6) then your body temperature is lowered and hypothermia can occur.  Wearing a wetsuit is beneficial for a couple of reasons, keeping your body temperature at a stable rate, and skin protection.  In warmer waters a "shorty" suit is more than sufficient. 

SUMMARY

These are just suggestions and based on my personal experiences talking with many divers and traveling for dives.  Dive equipment can be bulky and cumbersome, so that played a large role in what I suggested for rentals, but everybody is different.  The two most important pieces of equipment for me are your regulator and mask because breathing and seeing are essential. Those also happen to be the smallest and easiest to store while abroad, so it just seems automatic that you would own them, along with a wetsuit that is also easy to bring along.  So to recap, spit in your own mask, drool in your own regulator, and don't pee in any wetsuit (especially your own).