About an hour and a half away from the bustling city of Dubai, is the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Abu Dhabi. Three days into my trip it was time to visit the city made popular by the luxurious accommodations. I was going to take the coach bus, which is relatively cheap, however, they fill up quickly and only run every hour. So I cabbed it with 6 other people. Taxis to Abu Dhabi from the bus station won't move unless they fill it up, and will make you wait until they find other riders. You can only hope that the wait is a short one.
Arriving in Abu Dhabi, you won't find the Vegasesque entrance of Dubai. Surprisingly, it felt more family oriented. Instead of staying at a hotel, I stayed with friends from back home. My first 30 minutes there were spent throwing my luggage into the trunk of their car, and then hopping into a mysterious truck filled with strangers. I was off to a desert safari. We were driven by an Emirate man to an unknown location for what seemed like hours (2 hours to be exact). This is called trusting the process.
We arrived at the desert, greeted by groups of other tourists who were ready for the same adventure. Usually, I research everything, but this time I just let my imagination fill in the blanks. I knew Dune Bashing was driving over mounds of sand, but I didn't know it was driving over mounds of sand for the drag-racing extremist. You're literally being driven at full speed uphill and crashing down into the sand. There were a few times where I thought we would flip over, and my stomach dropped to my lap. We stopped for a few photo ops before meeting back up for food in the middle of the desert. The Arabian setup featured hookah with Shisha, an area to try on the traditional dresses, ATVs, camel riding, a Henna artist and floor seating. I got the chance to race through the wind on the four-wheeler, which was very liberating. An honest moment, I slide into a ditch and prayed I didn't ruin the bike. Next, I ate falafel and tabouleh on cushioned pillows as a belly dancer entertained us. She invited us to join her on stage, so I did and swayed my hips back and forth. There is nothing more freeing than dancing in the middle of the desert as the wind gently breezes past you. I was sad to see it come to an end.
The next day, I ventured off to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I wish I could convey the beauty of this place but no words would suffice. Made up completely of marble, it was the last dying wish of the late president of the UAE. On the tour, you learn how the mosque stood as a structure to unite cultural diversity by sourcing materials from around the world. The chandeliers alone are breathtaking, filled with millions of Swarovski crystals. All women must cover their heads before entering the mosque. If you don't have a scarf, they let you rent an Abaya (traditional dress) free of charge. When taking photos be mindful of posing. The purpose of this place is for worship, and they will kick you out if they feel you're being offensive. Being here, I knew I was on the right path. The purpose of my recent trips is to find a deeper connection to self and the spirit world. I felt that here; it's a sacred place.
Then there was the illustrious Emirates Palace. They sell gold in vending machines. If you think you're being watched, most likely you are. I was in and out. Once you see you can't afford to ball out, you'll look around, take a few photos and bounce. Still worth the trip.
I got to visit the art exhibitions at the Manarat Al Saadiyat. If you go, stay for lunch and dine outside. The Fanr restaurant's menu looks great and tastes even better. The installations were cool, but I wish it was longer. The Manarat Al Saadiyat showcases the history of Abu Dhabi and the plans for the future. Let's just say popular hubs like New York or London should be very afraid, they are building up museums and entertainment centers that rival some of the best in those areas. It is truly a progressive place, breaking down some of the conservative ways that once challenged the Middle East.