January 1: Old Dubai and the Souks

On New Year’s Day we pushed ourselves to get going. They say that recovering from jet lag takes about a day per hour of time change, so we have over a bit over a week to go. After successfully becoming vertical and walking out of the hotel, we tried to catch one of the abra (little water taxis)to join a tour meeting directly across Dubai Creek. They cruise up and down the creek all day and you can ride for 1 dirham (~25 cents). Whether we just didn’t understand how to work the system or whether the ticket office was late opening after the previous night’s celebrations is still unclear, but we ended up having to take an Uber to get to our destination which was “just over there…”

Our tour guide, Hamza, met us in traditional garb. The thawb is worn over another layer and can be pulled up to keep it clean while the under layer, sometimes pants, preserves modesty. When dressed in formal clothing, a headscarf (ghutra or keffiyeh) is worn and held in place with a coiled band called an igal. The igal keeps the scarf in place if it’s windy and traditionally was also used as a fetter for camels. A camel folds its legs when it lies down and the igal could be placed around a bent leg to keep the beast from getting up.

Hamza took us through historic Dubai and talked to us about classic homes and architecture. Homes had two doors; the larger door was used by family while the smaller door was used by guests and ensured privacy for the women of the home. If someone came through the small door, the women could withdraw to the family’s private areas. Summer rooms were cooled by a wind tower which allowed air circulation and cooling of a few degrees.

After walking through the historic neighborhood, we took a break to drink fresh pomegranate juice and eat samosas. Yum on both accounts! We were then coached on purchasing clothing in the textile souk (market) and set loose to browse. Scott and I sat and watched the world go by, lots of tourists and travel on the creek. The tour group regathered and was taken across the creek to the gold and spice souks on the other side. We finally had a chance to ride the abra that we had missed earlier.

The spice souk was an olfactory and visual experience! Saffron, star anise, dried limes, cinnamon, fragrant teas, and sandalwood were delightful. The menthol smoke was a shock and cleared our sinuses! Indigo and safflower petals are used as dyes. The souk salesmen are aggressive and Hamza taught us the appropriate “I’m just not interested and keep your hands to yourself” look. It’s illegal for them to try to pull you to a shop, but they’re pretty pushy. The gold souk was both shiny and sparkly 😁. The salesmen are not as aggressive and you can tell that they’re not as desperate to make a sale. All the gold is at least 18K and is available in any format you can imagine! We did not make any purchases.

We think we experienced much of what Dubai has to offer from hugging (or eating!) camel to seeing gold dresses and from the sandy Bedouin camps to the ultra-urban Dubai mall and Burj Khalifa. All of it seen through the jet lag fog which can make even the most ordinary a little surreal. Tomorrow we board the ship!

1 thought on “January 1: Old Dubai and the Souks”

  1. How exciting to see Dubai! The baby camel is precious. I’m fascinated by the houses with the wind turbines!
    My favorite is the spice souk! The colors are stunning! Reminds me of the street markets in SE Asia.

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