I have a taste of what weekends are likely to look like here in the Emirates and I have to say that I like it. As mentioned before, weekends officially start on Friday and run through to include Saturday, with the working week recommencing on Sunday. It was very novel to be able to lie in, albeit not much of one and nothing compared to the ‘norm’ which apparently involves staying up very late on Thursday and not surfacing from bed until the early afternoon on Fridays. I guess this Friday was a little different in as much as I had the car to collect, although the decision to elect such an early time to pick it up was a smart move as it meant I had relatively quiet roads on which to get used to driving here in Dubai. One tip I would certainly give any new driver here is to go and make a sat nav one of your very first purchases and definately have it on you before you head out onto the roads for the first time. The last thing you want to be doing on new and foreign roads is missing turn offs, cutting across busy intersections at the last moment and generally getting lost and stressed. For the sake of a hundred quid or so it’s small change and should keep you much safer. Besides, you’ll probably save the cost of the device in petrol not wasted by driving around getting aimlessly lost.
I had been reading Outdoors UAE magazine, which Kevin had in the villa, and had picked up the November issue, which had a focus on climbing. As a much enjoyed past-time back in the UK I had wanted to keep it up out here and so searched for the options. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem as though there is a huge amount of choice as far as indoor climbing goes, with most of the action occurring outside and in the winter, when it is warm as opposed to uncomfortably hot and humid. There are, however, a couple of places to get some indoor wall climbing fixes and I headed off to The Pyramids, opposite Wafi Mall and the Raffles Dubai hotel to check out what they had on offer. I booked an hour’s slot with one of their climbing instructors and found they had a couple of relatively high faces and some bouldering set in a corner of what is actually a health centre/ gym. Thankfully I was able to find some shoes that (just) fit me, although I did have to change into one that was a little too big for my right foot midway through climbing as I was actually in agony. Basically, my instructor, a lovely lady originally from India, acted as my belay partner whilst I top-roped a few of the routes that she suggested, starting off relatively easy and getting progressively tougher as the hour wore on. I felt quite pleased by how swiftly I got back into the groove and climbed pretty well, even if I do say so myself. The penultimate route did, however, prove a little tough and I had several false starts as I just failed to keep good traction on the wall, owing in large part to the small, fingery holds and features being something that I am not overly keen on, preferring the bigger, meatier holds and overhanging routes. Still, once I got into it I managed to do a pretty good job of navigating the route and descended hot, sweaty and tired but ultimately happy. I was able to wear my GoPro during the session as well, meaning that I got some fun footage of the routes being scaled and which I daresay I will never get around to editing – much like my snowboarding clips!
Wafi Mall itself was pretty much deserted, something I found odd considering it was the weekend, although it did mean that there was not much in the way of competition for seats at a cafe I found for a spot of dinner, a drink and some much needed web surfing and Facebook catch-up. A good first day to the weekend I would say.
As I had a car I was pretty keen to get out to Skydive Dubai in order to kick start my freefall account as a new resident. As I wasn’t sure when they would be sending loads up, and mindful of the fact that the weather can often change quickly ending jumping early, I set the alarm for 6am, promptly snoozing it for an hour, and decided to head out after confirming that they were in fact jumping. The journey proved to be a little bit of a challenge, especially as the skydive centre in the desert wasn’t actually on the sat nav, and with no obvious landmarks coming up I had to use some initiative and guesswork. The first attempt to head to Al Ain, the road to which the drop-zone is located, felt wrong, as I ended up on the motorway towards Abu Dhabi, which I was fairly certain was incorrect. In hindsight, based on the way I returned home, it may well have been ok but I wasn’t really prepared to take a chance, not this time anyway. A quick call to the DZ whilst driving back through the Marina proved less than helpful and so the next plan was to aim for a landmark that I recalled seeing en route when Chandy drove me out in November: the Meydan racecourse. This got me as far as the cycle track, which I will definately return to try out, especially given the fact it is free to use, and after getting some directions from a friendly cyclist, found myself on the road I knew I needed all along: the E66 (route 66), otherwise known as the Al Ain road, which I knew for a fact would take me directly to the DZ.
The drive out along Route 66 takes you past some of the major local landmarks including the Meydan Racecourse, the venue for the richest horserace in the world, the Sevens stadium, which was built as a venue for the Rugby Sevens tournament which is run each Winter and also is used as a venue for a number of other events, including music concerts. The road also drives past the camel racing track, which made for some double taking the first time I passed it. The sight of camels running along with people on their backs was not one I was really prepared for, in spite of being aware that camel racing was a big deal here in the UAE.
The Skydive Dubai desert drop zone looms out of nowhere and is in a state of constant change as construction continues on the wind tunnel and hotel which are being built and which will make the site one of the premier skydive resorts in the world. The DZ itself is lovely, with some fantastic landing areas, fringed on all sides by the desert, and first class facilities, including two huge packing areas and a cafe. As this was my first trip back since my day of helicopter jumping back in November I requested a re-orientation and was shown the important areas and talked through the landing patterns and DZ rules by Ivan, one of the instructors.
As we were walking outside a sight that I was certainly not expecting met me: there in front of me stood none other than the F1 Champion and all time motor racing great, Michael Schumacher! There was absolutely no mistaking the guy and it turned out that he was out with his family getting some jumps in and, by the looks of it, putting his son through the AFF course. In many respects it makes sense to see F1 drivers involved in skydiving – they are, essentially by virtue of the job they do, adrenaline junkies and so skydiving must be a perfect release for them. After all, what other activity is going to come even close to the sheer on the edge thrill that you must get from racing at the speeds they do?!
I saw Michael a few more times during the day, including finding myself standing right next to him and his two sons and daughter (I am assuming thats who they were) whilst I removed my chute following my second jump. In hindsight I should have just been bold and said hi, instead choosing to act as though he was just another regular skydiver, which I told myself he was. I guess the reason I didn’t say anything was that I wasn’t sure if he would have found any approach annoying, considering that he must get gushing fans hounding him all of the time and was likely just looking to spend some time out with his family without being bothered. I realised after leaving the DZ that, in actual fact, the worst that could have happened from being polite and saying hi was that he didn’t say anything back and ignored me. I could have lived with that. In hindsight I very much doubt that would been the response, as he seemed to be in very good spirits, and I am still kicking myself for not seizing such a great opportunity. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I now have something in common with one of the greatest F1 champions ever, and that is really cool 🙂
My jumps were fun, as expected, and saw me complete two solo belly skydives, focusing on just getting back into the swing of freefall and canopy control, something that felt awesome to be back into. I ended the day having completed jump number 49 and feeling ready to get my B-licence nailed. Unfortunately, the Palm DZ is still on a D, or 500 jumps, limit whilst construction continues, but I am hoping that it will revert back to a B-licence DZ soon as it is most definately the Holy Grail of DZs to aim for. The ultimate aim is to be able to jump with either my little bro or dad whilst they do a tandem, which I reckon would just be such an awesome experience.
Skydives complete, it was back to Dubai and The Springs for a spot of afternoon chilling by the pool and getting some reading done. I am now convinced that it is so much easier to study having taken a refreshing dip in a pool and to sit and read whilst baking in the sunshine than it is sat at some dull desk someplace, and found the task of reading my CPD notes a pleasure. Go figure!
The evening’s entertainment choice was to head along to Safa Park, a fantastic expanse of well maintained and beautiful parkland in the centre of Dubai and overlooked by the beautiful downtown skyline, including the truly mesmerizing Burj Khalifa, which twinkled away like an icicle in the sun, to watch Majid deliver a talk. I had initially expected the talk to be given in a lecture theatre and for Majid to be the only speaker. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the venue for the event, known as Pecha Kucha, was The Archive, a charming little library-come-cafe near Gate 5 of the park – the opposite end, incidentally, to where I had parked and entered, not that it mattered as it mean’t I got to stroll through the park itself, which was lovely at night.The format for the event was that there were a number of speakers during the evening, all with twenty slides that stay on the outdoor screen for twenty seconds, meaning that the presentations were all pretty slick and short. The topics ranged from subjects as diverse as ‘Moving Art’ to Majid’s talk on ‘The Secret Lives of Vets,’ focusing heavily on the important work of vets in protecting us humans from the very real threat of zoonoses. The atmosphere was really chilled, with everyone sat outside either on standard chairs, which were arranged in an amphitheatre style set-up, or on one of the beanbags, cushions or carpet that were to found at the front. Food was available in the short interval, with the burger I got being too big to finish, and as already mentioned, the atmosphere was just really great, with a very impressive turnout and a pretty eclectic crowd.
Majid introduced me to some of his good friends, and I also had the pleasure of meeting his beautiful new wife, which was a real honour. One of his friends, Paul, was the person hosting the event and I offered to give a talk myself at the next event, something that I reckon would be a lot of fun and for which I already have an idea.
Overall, as far as weekends go I can say that my first official weekend in Dubai has been brilliant and I know that I have barely even begun to scratch the surface of what is on offer here. In fact I have already been identifying events and concerts that I fancy going along to, including some pretty tempting acts coming up at the venues on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, including the legends of rock, Metallica, who I definately have to see! One of the challenges, I reckon, of living here in Dubai is working out how I am going to fit in all of the fun whilst also having to work. Ah well, not a bad ‘dilemma’ to be faced with.
Talking of work, I’d best log off now as its an early start to head to the clinic for the first day of the working week tomorrow.