Tag Archives: dark

Run in the Dark (Dubai Style)

Scott and Chris_Run in the DarkWith all of the great races on offer over the sporting season here it is nice to occasionally be able to get involved in an event that has a great underlying cause attached to it and to channel all of that athletic energy into more than just chasing PBs and medals. So it was that I signed up to the Run in the Dark after learning of the event from a new friend and fellow vet here in the city, Scott, and his girlfriend, Sarah, a lawyer here in Dubai.

The run, of which there was the option to cover either 4km or 9km, was one of several being staged on the same evening (in terms of the local start time and date) around the globe, and was in aid of the Mark Pollock Trust, an organisation established by Mark himself following a slew of incredibly unfortunate and ultimately life-changing events, and whose mission is to find and connect people from around the world, and across disciplines, to fast-track a cure for paralysis.

The Dubai ‘pop up,’ as it was referred to on the website, saw about thirty of us don runners, strap on our reflective, flashing armbands and congregate outside the Marina Mall, before setting off on our respective loop of the marina, meeting back at the mall.

Chris and Caoimhe_Run in the DarkI recognised a few familiar faces from the local running and triathlon scene, whilst many more were new to me. What was clear, however, was that everyone was out to have some fun, get some decent exercise and reflect in a positive manner on what is ultimately a very worthwhile cause. Although pegged as a ‘fun run,’ the competitive runner in all of us did mean that this was never going to be a simple stroll and so the pace started off steady, gradually picking up towards the closing stages. Although I ended up running relatively up front, along with Sharjah-based teacher and exceptionally good runner, Caoimhe, there was one member of the group who either had a plane to catch or chilli down his pants because he literally flew off and was not actually seen again once the starting signal was given. Still, the fact remains that he came out for a good cause.

The marina loop is always an entertaining run, as the variation in width and activity around the edge makes for a variable experience. The end closest to Jebel Ali always affords a good chance to really stretch the legs and open up the throttle, whilst the more densely packed areas closest to the Dubai end, with the plethora of packed-out restaurants and tourists casually strolling along, call for more of a Rugby Sevens approach, nimbly dodging and weaving, whilst occasionally having to grind to an acute halt before accelerating on again. The other challenge of this section of the marina are the ever-present dangers posed from those pedal-powered go-karts that kids with F1 dreams (if not the skills) charge through the crowds in, often calling for a deft leap and dodge manoeuvre to be pulled from nowhere. Still, all told, both Caoimhe and I posted a very pleasing 9km time, sprinting home in grand style.

Zero Gravity in DubaiFollowing the run, a few of us piled into Scott and Sarah’s car, flashing armbands and all, to make the short journey over to Zero Gravity where post-run grub and a few well-deserved drinks were the order of the evening. A great setting to bring to a close a really fun night with some great people, all really maximising their time here in this great and ever-changing city of Dubai.

To learn more about the Run in the Dark, including how to sign up for 2015’s events, and to read more about the Mark Pollock Trust, head to www.runinthedark.org.

Dining in the Dark

Being able to see what you eat is something that we all take for granted. We rely on our sight to inform us about dining in a number of ways, from the actual colour, expected texture and physical form of our food, and thus whether we even like the look of it, to the pure logistics of eating, such as simply navigating the food from the plate to our mouths. Taking the time to really savour other aspects of a dish, such as smell and flavour, can perhaps fall down the list of priorities in our hyper-visual world. Having the chance to indulge the other senses, therefore, is always going to prove to be an interesting experience.

In celebration of (or is actually mourning?!) one of our vets and her husband making the move back home to South Africa, after several years here in the UAE, a bunch of us headed off to the Fairmont Hotel in Dubai to partake in the Noire dining experience. In essence: dining in the dark. Due to an initial issue with our booking we had time to initially hang by the very nice bar enjoying our complimentary drinks and anticipating the forthcoming and very novel experience, as not one of us had ever intentionally dined in the dark before. What would we be eating? Would we like it? What would the atmosphere be like? A whole set of questions were just waiting to be answered as we were eventually briefed, including instructions to remove any watches that might ‘glow in the dark’ to the somewhat obvious-when-told order to switch off any phones. The only source of light there would be visible to us in the dining room would be the red light on top of each of the waiter and waitresses’ night vision goggles. In fact, being met by our hosts for the evening decked out in black and adorned with what is effectively military equipment in the form of night vision goggles, was a surreal experience in and of itself.

view in Noire
Our view of our surroundings in Noire

We were led in small groups into the dining room itself in a strange conga-esque procession, with the diner at the front placing their hands on the shoulders of our waiter and everyone else following with their hands on the person in front’s shoulders. Shuffling into the pitch black felt alien and the first instinct was to wonder where the light switch was and search urgently for any source of light. The only glimmer of light was a very faint and occasional line of white creeping in through and between the thick black curtains that kept us in total darkness and separate from the world of light outside.

Seated at our tables, the first thing to do was establish our bearings, ascertain what was in front of us – cutlery, a small bread plate, water and wine glasses, with both water and wine present, and our fellow diners sat beside and in front of us. One of the most bizarre aspects of being in the dark was finding plates and food seemingly magically appear and disappear before us. Where once there was an empty plate, now there was bread, and vice versa when it came to dishes disappearing once finished with.

The most noticeable feature of human interaction in a totally dark environment is how much louder we all become. It is as if we live by the mantra of “if you can’t see me then you’re going to hear me,” as the conversation volume certainly ratcheted up several levels, with some of the diners virtually shouting at times. I wondered whether some were simply trying to employ sonar techniques to visualise their neighbours! The other human trait that comes out in the dark is our propensity for mischief when the opportunity presents. Whether it be stealthily stealing our neighbours’ wine or creeping up behind them and making physical contact with them when they don’t expect it, the experience was very playful and a lot of fun. Quite what we must have looked like to our hosts, however, is anyone’s guess but I imagine ridiculous is probably fairly close. Especially when we felt it would be a great laugh to initiate a Mexican wave! Can you imagine the sight?! It must have been the most mal-coordinated effort ever seen in the history of waves!

As for the food itself, it was undoubtedly delicious, as we started with a small spoon of a fried noodle dish, before enjoying a biriyani, which was one of the tastiest dishes I have had for a very long time. The flavours certainly jump out at you much more when you can’t see what it is you’re eating and if it were not for the fact that I was so hungry and thus devoured by fare pretty swiftly, it would have been a real treat to truly savour and appreciate the aroma, texture and taste of each dish. The main was a very tasty Korean dish, with marinaded grilled beef, mushrooms and a delicious rice base, whilst the dessert involved rice pudding, roasted carrot(!) and, again, was lovely. It was somewhat of a shame, however, that there was no attention paid to the drinks, as we simply had a standard glass of pretty average white wine to start and then a small glass of similarly unimpressive red to accompany the beef dish. Pairing each dish with a complimentary drink might have helped really elevate the entire experience and would be something that I would suggest as an improvement. The other suggestion I would make is to increase the amount of each dish served. I was not the only one who left the dining room still hungry and when the opportunity to finish off the chef’s presentation dishes was on offer I took it, which seemed like a bit of a poor way to have to end the evening as I should have left the actual dining experience feeling satisfied.

night vision goggles, NoireFinishing the evening with the chance to don a set of the goggles and venture back into look at where we were dining, I was surprised to see that the room was significantly smaller than I imagined. Again, thoughts of what we must have all looked like did make me chuckle. Overall, a fun and certainly novel experience, but at 325 AED a head, I would have expected a little more food. After all, it’s not as if they’re spending that money on lighting the place!

Noire at Spectrum on One, Fairmont Hotel, Dubai

Falling in the Dark

Life is a series of opportunities and experiences, some odder and more extreme than others. I had the chance recently to take part in one such experience that most sane members of society would consider utterly insane, and I can see that they may well have a point. The activity in question was nighttime skydiving, which as you might have correctly guessed involves skydiving. At night. In the dark.

skydiving essentialsHaving recently acquired my USPA B-license I was eligible to sign up for the jump, which is only generally run once a year and is limited in terms of how many jumpers can take part. As it is part of the requirements for the D-license it was an extra bonus that I was able to get that part of my skydiving career under my belt at this stage. So, after making a mad dash out of work on the Saturday evening in question, skillfully navigating myself away from the car park that was Sheikh Zayed road and heading out to the desert dropzone, it was time to manifest, grab my rig and get psyched up for what was always going to be a mad experience. The fact that pretty much every other skydiver regardless, it seemed, of their experience level looked nervous simply added to the feeling of epic trepidation that I was certainly feeling.

The briefing was conducted once everyone had arrived and like pretty much everything we ever do in skydiving it was completely focused on safety and ensuring that the jumps went as smoothly as possible. That is one thing that crops up again and again with ‘extreme’ sports: the uncompromising focus on safety, in spite of what most people view as simply a bunch of unhinged loonies engaging in reckless tomfoolery.

The jumps were to be performed from a helicopter, which is always a treat in itself, and each skydiver had three lights on them: a green glowstick on the back of the helmet (so we could be seen by other skydivers as we jumped from the helicopter), a red light on our chest strap (so we could be seen by other skydivers should we be falling with our backs to the earth), and a strobe light attached to our left ankles, to be switched on only once we were safely under canopy. It was drilled into us how much of a bad idea it would be for us to make the mistake of switching our strobes on in the helicopter, as someone had done the year before. Basically it takes about 30 minutes to regain night vision and so having a bright light suddenly go off in front of you before leaping would have done nothing good for everyone’s ability to see.

The plan was for everyone to complete two jumps in total: one solo jump and the second a group jump with one or more other people. As the number of jumpers that could go up at any one time was relatively small and the ground control had to be certain that everyone who had just jumped had landed and returned to the dropzone safely, the progression of the evening was a little slower than I think I had initially anticipated. As such, I spent a lot of time actually just kicking back on the sofa, waking up just in time for my jumps.

Gearing up and cracking the chemical light sticks on both my helmet and chest strap, I couldn’t help but feel like a character in the sci fi movie Tron. One thing that was a little disappointing was that the ‘glow in the dark’ Batman t-shirt that I had excitedly purchased the day before did anything but. In fact, the whites of my eyes were probably glowing more than the bat logo! Shame as I reckon it would have looked mental to have the bat logo looming out of the dark.

The helicopter ride up was a strange sensation, as the only lights visible were the soft luminous glows of various red and green light sticks, and the various dials and switches of the main cockpit area. As such, the atmosphere was one of calm anticipation as we each mentally prepared and rehearsed what was about to follow.

Once at jump altitude it was a relatively swift business of leaping out, dropping silently away from the helicopter blinking before us, whilst savouring the utterly alien sensation of freefall in the dark. I found that we had surprisingly more time in actual freefall than initially expected and when pull-altitude eventually came I felt satisfied that my appetite for this new form of adrenaline shot had been sated. The canopy portion of the descent was much as it is in daylight, apart from remembering to twist on our strobes and the fact that, well, we couldn’t see much. One of the strange and apparently unnerving phenomenon that can occur when jumping at night is that your own shadow can end up looking like another skydiver flying in uncomfortably close proximity to you, with a lot of jumpers instinctively turning to fly away from the perceived danger. The problem, of course, is that one’s shadow tends to follow and can’t be shaken off, so it takes a few moments to realise that you’re actually trying to escape yourself!

skydiving at night in DubaiLanding was, in many ways, a much calmer process in the dark as the fact that you can’t easily see everything around makes you focus intently on what is immediately approaching, and also on good altitude awareness and steady canopy control on the approach. I think my landings in the dark were smoother than many of my daylight ones. The landing area itself was very clearly marked, with lights in an arrow shape, and the fact that we had the road and InFlight tunnel very brightly lit up made it easy to know where to aim for.

Having checked in with ground control – one of the important safety measures in place to ensure that everyone was present and accounted for after each jump run and before the next – I headed back in to get my rig packed and wait for the next jump, this one being a two-way.

Jumping with someone else in the dark was just as insane, and we had time enough to turn a few points before turning, tracking and pulling as we normally would.

A late finish (1.30 in the morning!) but a great way to spend an evening here in Dubai and a unique experience to record in the personal history.