The nice thing about this free day was the chance i had to sleep in this morning. It was much needed, as it seems like we are always on the go with our hectic schedule. It was a pretty laid back day for the most par. I got up around 9:00 or so to skype with Jenn and then met up with Danielle, Mariella, and Leonard and got a cab back to the beach they went to on her birthday when i was asleep. It is called Nismi Beach and it is a part of the Atlantis resort property, so we were back out on the Palm. Marisol didn't go, she said she just wanted to sleep in today and chill at the Academy. So the four of us headed out to the beach. It was really nice there. Unfortunately i didn't get any pictures of it, but there were bean bags, tables with umbrellas, and beach chairs all over the place. They serve food and drinks so you could literally just hang out all day if you wanted to. The water was still cold but nice today, and the sun was warm so we all laid out and got some more sun rays. We were there for quite a while, just sun tanning and hanging out. Leonard and i got in the water a couple times. When we were ready to leave, we got into one of the waiting cabs in a line outside the resort. There was a water taxi from this beach to the souks downtown (which is where we were headed), but it is only worth it if there are a lot of people taking it. The charge is for the boat, not per person, and for the four of us to take it would have been too expensive.
We wandered around the gold souk for a while. Danielle wanted to look at fake hand bags and Leonard wanted to get a kandura, which is the national dress. We went to several of the back room shops they had, including the one where i bought my fake Rolex, and just walked through the tiny alleyways of the souk. It's much different during the day when you can see everything. It didn't seem like there were as many people here either, which Shaheem told us there wouldn't be since today is Friday, which is the Sabbath here. He said he doubted the souks would even be open before about 3:00, so that's when we came down here. There were still a lot of people here, but most were Indians and Pakistanis who were the merchants trying to get us to come into their stores. One set of store owners literally jump in front of you with big smiles on their faces, blocking your way in the crowded alley and directing you into their shops. We politely pushed past them as we wandered around looking for national dress for Leonard. He ended up going to a shop run by Afghani men, and i went to one just down the alley from it to buy another scarf for Jenn's sisters to share (i'm bad atbuying souvenirs, but Jenn told me to get one for them). The guys who ran this store were Afghani also. They asked where we were from, and i have gotten into the habit of asking where they think i am from to hear their responses. So far i have gotten Italy, Germany, France, England, and Australia. They never respond with the U.S., probably because all these other places are so much closer that they see a lot more of these visitors. When i tell them i am from the states they get big smiles on their faces and tell me they are Taliban and say they are friends with Osama bin Laden. I just smile, knowing they are looking for a reaction. I should have asked if they knew where he was. There is a $25 million bounty on his head, and i would have gladly given them 25 million dirham for their help. They were really cool though, both young men in their mid twenties. One's name was John, or something similar to it, and the other's name was Abdullah Karsi. "Like President Karsi," i say, referring to their current president. He tells me the president's first name is Hammad and they aren't related. But this gets us on the topic of politics, and i sit and talk to them for a long time about politics while Leonard is getting his national dress down the alley. It was really interesting though speaking with them because they talked so candidly with me. They told me i should visit Afghanistan. "I don't think i'd be very welcome," i respond. Abdullah tells me i wouldn't have a problem. "You're a tourist, you'll be fine. It's your politicians we don't like." I tell him i can't disagree with him about that. He talks a lot about Obama and how he doesn't know what really goes on over there. He says that Karsi pretends like he is working with the U.S., but tells his people that he would never hurt the Taliban. "They are our brothers," Abdullah explains. "Why would he want to hurt them?" He says the Taliban is willing to work with Karsi and come to terms on a lot of issues, but their one condition is that the U.S. must leave Afghanistan first and stay out of it. I tell him i agree and i promise not to tell Obama. We talk for a while and then he sells me a scarf for 15 dirhams, which is 20 less than i bought the same one in a different color for from a different merchant. He has the best prices around, and he's super cool. Leonard walks up at this time with his new kandura, completely decked out in his national dress and headscarf. With his dark complexion and aviator sunglasses, he can pull it off too. It looks good. Abdullah asks how much he paid, and he says 150 dirhams (about $42). When Leonard walks away, he tells me if i want the same thing he will give it to me for 75 dirhams ($21), but not to tell Leonard since he just bought it. I tell him i'm not looking to get one. But i must say, they are pretty sweet. Khalid told us he prefers them because they are so comfortable. I think i would feel like i'm wearing a dress and don't know if i can do it. I tell Abdullah that if anyone in our group comes down to the souks i will send them to him because he's a good dude and has great prices. He gives me a card and then the four of us leave. We rush out of the souk to get a cab to get back to the Academy. Leonard is still in his national dress and merchants are stopping and staring at him as he walks by. It's pretty funny. I wish i would have got a picture of him.
We rushed back to the Academy because a lot of our group was signed up to go on a desert safari. Cody Paris ended up going with us too, and he's the one who recommended it above anything else. He said every year his students do this and it's always the highlight of the trip. I wouldn't call it the highlight, but it was pretty sweet. Right when we get back to the Academy, i take a quick shower and meet up with everyone else out by the pool. Marisol is coming on the safari, as well as Leonard and Mariella, but Danielle decides to stay home. It's 200 dirham per person (about $56), and she doesn't want to spend the money on it. Besides the four of us, Jamie and Mary Jane go, as well as David, Jennifer, Daisy, Tatiana, and Jill. Josie and Danielle stay home, and Hana is out spending time with her dad who lives in Qatar and who she hasn't seen for 7 to 10 years or so. The safari is run through Alpha tours, and they pick us up in two Toyota Land Cruisers and drive us way out into the desert. Now THIS is what i expected the desert here to look like. Miles and miles of sand dunes out in the middle of no where. No local freeways cutting through anywhere close, no houses or buildings in sight. We are way out in the desert on the border of the Dubai and Sharjah emirates. Our group only took up two Land Cruisers, but we were part of a 15 or so car caravan. These Land Cruisers have modified engines and special sand tires on them for 4-wheeling. I can't imagine they last long, because the way our driver was driving was insane. They beat the crap out of these things. I don't know how the engines don't cease from all the sand they must suck up. It's crazy, but it was a lot of fun. Scary at times, but fairly cool. Like a roller coaster that was unsafe enough to make exciting but not terrifying. We drove around for around an hour and a half, up and down dunes, flying sideways and drifting around corners, throwing sand everywhere as we went. We stopped on one particularly tall dune to get a glimpse of the sun as it was setting. Everyone got out and walked around for a bit. The sand here is so fine, it's not like any beach i know. It gets everywhere and it's quite hard to even walk in. You sink in almost to your ankle with each step.
As the sun was throwing out it's last rays before setting over the horizon, we pulled up to a camp area where they would serve us dinner. It almost looked to me like a little
walled in area where they would drop us off, take our wallets, and leave us there. That wasn't the case however. Apparently they want to be able to keep doing this in the future. They cooked us dinner, which was buffet style Arabic food again (i'm officially tired of it), and they put on a show similar to the night we were at Bab Al Shams. They had a belly dancer and music, food and drinks, and even sand surfing, which is riding down the sand dunes on a snowboard. It sounds much cooler than it is. It was actually quite boring. You go so slow and it isn't thrilling at all. It's nothing like snowboarding or surfing. if you had someone pulling you behind a Land Cruiser, it could be like wake boarding, but you're going to get so much sand thrown in your face that it's probably not a good idea.There was also a lady there doing free henna tattoos. She was pretty good too, and a lot
of the girls got flowery designs put on their hands and arms. I got one that said "I'm So Cool", which reflects the terrible life decision it would have been had it been a real tattoo because it turned out really bad. She didn't know how to write in English very well, and i drew it on my arm for her but it was conceptually bad from the start. People rode camels, we all ate and hung out, and then we piled back into the Land Cruisers and our driver drove us back to the Academy just as maniacally as if we were still on the dunes. As if i haven't said it enough, i will say it again; drivers here are CRAZY.
Once back home, everyone gets cleaned up and ready for our last free night out on the town in Dubai. Khalid makes an appearance with his cousin Rashid, and Danielle, Marisol, Mariella, Tatiana, Josie, Leonard and I all go out with them to a hotel where we can get some food and everyone can get drinks. People get pretty smashed tonight, and Khalid asks me if i would drive his Suburban home since i was the only one not drinking. I told him that wasn't a problem. He is telling me we need to keep in touch, which i definitely want to. I tell him that i like Shaheem and his brother Salem, but that Khalid is way cooler and we all feel that way. He is seriously a super stud.
We hung out at the hotel for a while and just talked and what not, and then we all piled in his Suburban and i got a taste of driving in Dubai. Granted, it was late at night, and no one was on the roads, but i still drove. When we got back to the Academy, Leonard was really drunk and it was suggested that he walk around a while so he's not hung over in the morning. So a few of us walked down to the local public beach near by. Leonard strips down to his underwear and jumps in the water, which is insane considering it's already cold out tonight and the water has to be freezing. He puts his clothes back on and we walk back to the Academy and everyone goes to bed. Tomorrow is our last day in Dubai. We have a dinner planned for tomorrow night with everyone before we head to the airport for our red-eye flight back home. I tell Khalid he needs to come chill with us during the day at least tomorrow, and he says he'll be in touch. These two weeks have flown by already. There is still so much we haven't seen or done, but we are going to just take it easy and get everything we need to taken care of tomorrow, like packing and what not. At least that's what i plan to do.