A Travellerspoint blog

Dubai Layover 1: Desert Dunes and Dinner

I was finally returning to Africa! It had been only two years but it had seemed like forever. This time, instead of it being a girls' trip, it was my honeymoon. After twelve years, Mike and I got married just three days before leaving on our long-planned trip. It couldn't have been better timing.




This trip was much different than the first. It was a three week journey with ten days of safari in Botswana, three nights on the South African coast, and five nights in Cape Town. On either end of the trip, we had long layovers in Dubai. The official itinerary looked like this:

Friday, November 20 - Fly to Dubai.
Saturday, November 21 - Arrive in Dubai. Long layover.
Sunday, November 22 - Arrive in Johannesburg. Fly to Maun, Botswana. Fly to the Kalahari Desert. Spend three nights at Tau Pan.
Wednesday, November 25 - Fly north to the Linyanti Region. Spend two nights at Lagoon Camp.
Friday, November 27 - Road transfer to Lebala Camp. Spend two nights.
Sunday, November 29 - Fly to the Okavango Delta. Spend three nights at Kwara Camp.
Wednesday, December 2 - Fly back to Maun then on to Johannesburg. Spend night at African Rock Hotel.
Thursday, December 3 - Fly to Cape Town. Drive to De Kelders. Spend three nights at Cliff Lodge.
Sunday, December 6 - Drive back to Cape Town. Spend five nights at Lawhill Luxury Apartments.
Friday, December 11 - Fly to Dubai.
Saturday, December 12 - Arrive in Dubai. Long layover.
Sunday, December 13 - Arrive home.

Our car arrived for airport pickup at 8a sharp. We were so excited that we hadn't gotten much sleep the night before. We arrived at the airport and had breakfast at Tigrin's Pub. Mike had bangers and mash and I had an American breakfast. We boarded the gigantic A380 for our 14-hour flight to Dubai. Our seats were toward the back of the plane, just in front of a bulkhead, near the toilet. Emirates supplied us with hot towels, socks, and eye covers. There was plenty of leg room, good food, and free drinks. I would say this was the most pleasant overseas plane trip I've been except for the constant shrieking of babies throughout the flight. Mike was able to sleep through most of it. I was not. After a dinner of chicken ragout for me and sweet and sour fish for Mike, I watched a foodie documentary and he watched "Minions." I then played "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" for a large portion of the flight. I got very, very close many times but never could clinch the win.

We arrived in Dubai around noon and made it through immigration with no issues. Our luggage was checked all the way through. Our first order of business was to find an ATM and get some UAE dirhams. Unfortunately, my debit card was rejected and I couldn't retrieve any cash. I didn't know why and since it was a Saturday, my bank was closed. I had some US cash so I changed some of that into dirhams and decided to deal with the cash issue later. We took a taxi to the Souk al Bahar, a shopping center connected to the Dubai Mall. We stopped for lunch at Mango Tree, a Thai restaurant with a tableside view of the afternoon fountain show and the Burj Khalifa.


We dined on prawn chips with sweet and sour sauce and shrimp spring rolls while watching tourists zipline across the fountains in front of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.



We relaxed at Mango Tree until around 3p then walked down to Guest Services at the Souk to meet our guide for our dune bashing safari and dinner in the desert. Anil met us there shortly and after a short stop for gas we set out for the dunes. We drove about 45 minutes outside of town.
Anil stopped so we could take some pictures and he could deflate the tires.



Then the dune bashing began. I didn't really know what to expect with dune bashing. I knew we'd be driving over the dunes but I didn't expect we'd be doing it at break-neck speed and turning and spinning. It was a little scary and I didn't care much for it to be honest. We were sideways and all over the place. I thought we were going to flip over several times.

After only about 15 minutes, Anil miscalculated and we got stuck. Our back right tire was deeply embedded in the sand and our front left tire was completely off the ground. We weren't going anywhere. He had us get out of the car so he could inspect the situation.

He made some phone calls. He paced around. He pulled out a shovel. I use the term shovel loosely. It was actually a kid's play sand, beach shovel. There was no way we were going to dig out with that. We could see other cars driving in the distance but had no way of signalling to them. Mike and I paced around and tried to enjoy the scenery.


Finally, help showed up to pull us out.

And there was a cavalry behind them. Mike and I just tried not to get run over.


Shortly we were on our way again. I was totally over the dune bashing and quite frankly didn't have a lot of confidence in Anil's driving capabilities at this point. But he was on a mission to show us a good time.

Thankfully, the sun was starting to set so the dune bashing didn't last much longer. We pulled over to get some last pictures before dark.

Anil then drove us to the desert camp for our dinner and show. It was a beautiful, candlelit camp set up in the middle of the desert. The camp had a full bar and offered henna tattoos, sand boarding, camel riding, and traditional robing. We chose a table near the stage and grabbed some drinks.


Before dinner, Mike really wanted to try on the traditional dress of the UAE. I was not excited about this and thought it might be disrespectful to do so. I also did not want to take part in the oppression of women that I believe the traditional dress supports. But I relented and we wandered over to the tent to take a look. We did put on the traditional robes and seeing a picture of myself in this garb was an eye-opening experience for me. It makes me thankful that I was born in a country where I can enjoy full equal rights.


The pre-dinner show was a tanoura dance from Egypt. The word tanoura refers to the colorful skirt worn by the dancer.





After the show, a buffet dinner was served of beef and chicken kebabs, aromatic rice, salads, and Indian flatbread. Mike bought a traditional headwrap which he wore the rest of the night.

The after dinner show was a belly dancing performance which, according to Anil, is not traditional in any way to the UAE but is performed for the Westerners only. There was a little boy whom she would dance over to and he would giggle and smile shyly. This was cute. The older, salivating men who acted like they hadn't seen a woman dance before were not.



Anil arrived after the show and drove us back to the airport. He showed Mike the proper way to tie on his headwrap but when we went through immigration at the airport it was obvious that the men there were talking disapprovingly about Mike wearing it. Anil had said it would be okay. It was obviously not so Mike removed it so as not to cause a problem.

We didn't have a lot of time to kill at the airport but we did stop by the duty free shop on our way to the gate and my debit card was again rejected. This time, the manager said that VISA was telling him to confiscate it and cut it up. I was almost in tears by now as we had very little cash and I was depending on the ability to ATM money during our entire trip. We were about to head to Botswana for ten days where we would have no access to phones or email so I had no way to contact my bank or resolve the issue. I convinced the manager NOT to cut up my card and was able to pay for our items with another card. I came up with a plan and made a quick phone call to my mother asking her to Western Union some cash to us to arrive in Johannesburg in ten days. She would have to coordinate with our Botswana travel agent while we were on safari. She agreed and we boarded the flight.

With almost two days of very little sleep, we were both asleep before take off. Mike woke up just long enough to see the Burj Khalifa lit up as we soared overhead. We woke again for some beef in tomato sauce for dinner and then played "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" together for a while. We drifted off to sleep again and enjoyed a very quiet flight all the way to Johannesburg.

Posted by deniseandmike 16:50 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged dubai mike layover Comments (0)

Padre Day 7: Dolphin Quest

Vi and I had our own plans for today which involved a little bit of shopping and some dolphin watching. Mike wasn't too interested in either so he elected to stick around the condo for a last day of surf fishing. Since we were stealing the car for the day, we took him to get some bait then drove into Port Isabel to do a little pre-dolphin shopping. We found one of the best beach-themed stores I've ever visited (which is saying a lot). I don't remember the name of it but it's on the corner of the square where the Lighthouse is located, right next to the Pier. They have really cute, beachy home decor and some beautiful jewelry items. I bought a silver starfish ring and my traditional Christmas ornament, a handpainted flip-flop. We actually returned to Padre 10 months later when Vi's son got married and the first thing I thought when I heard that's where the wedding would be was that I would get to go back to this store. That's how good it was.

It was getting close to noon and time for our dolphin trip so we walked across the street to the Sea Life Center to meet the boat. No one was inside and we entered to find a giant tortoise entangled in an extension cord on the floor. We untangled him and I have to admit this was a bit disturbing to me. But we headed down to the boat dock anyway. Unfortunately, the actual Dolphin Lady was not on our trip. Her very talkative husband was the guide. We shared the boat with another couple and a mother and her two young children. Also on the boat were the owner's two dogs and Cheetoh-eating pig.


We made our way out into the bay and had a nice view of the Padre skyline.

We did spot our first Atlantic, bottle-nosed dolphin in this area. Not having much luck here, we headed over to another area and came upon a couple in the water. The dogs helped us spot them.



A pelican was watching over the action.

Once they disappeared, we had a bit of a scenic trip to look for others.



The pig was tired from all the work.





The pelicans follow the dolphins hoping to get scraps of leftover food.

The dolphin trip lasted about two hours and we were back at the dock. We were hungry by this time so we grabbed some nachos at a little cafe on the square and finished up our shopping. We met Mike back at the condo and talked about his day. He caught a small catfish and met an 88-year-old Battle of the Bulge veteran on the beach. As a military vet himself, he loves talking to other vets about their experiences.

For our last dinner, we met Vi's sister, Diana, and her husband, Frank, at Pelican Station in Port Isabel. They live about an hour away and we really enjoy spending time with them when we can.

Dinner was very good. I started with seafood stuffed jalapenos and Mike started with clam chowder. My main entree was flounder with crawfish and mushrooms in a cream sauce and Mike had lobster tail.


After dinner, Frank and Diana followed us back to the condo and we all went to the Wanna Wanna for drinks and cigars (for the boys).

After they left, we got things packed up and went to bed. The next morning we finished our packing and cleaned up the condo. We left the condo around 11a and stopped for lunch at Senor Donkey before leaving Padre. We drove to the airport where Mike and I caught our flight to Dallas via Houston Hobby and Vi waited for her sister to pick her up. She was returning to her parents' house so that she could drive back to Dallas with her daughter and granddaughter. It was a nice trip and a great time of year to visit Padre; no crowds, nice weather, and good friends.

Posted by deniseandmike 16:43 Archived in USA Tagged padre vi Comments (0)

Padre Day 6: Fishing for Dinner

We woke early again this morning to another beautifully sunny and warm day. After another taco breakfast courtesy of Vi, we stopped by the Blue Marlin grocery to pick up lunch for our fishing trip and a fishing license for Vi. We were meeting our fishing charter at White Sands Marina in Port Isabel so we headed across the bridge, stopping for a minute at the Port Isabel Pier and Lighthouse.


Captain Cliff and the pelicans were waiting for us at White Sands Marina. His normal fishing boat was in the shop so he was leasing a boat for our charter today.


We climbed aboard and got everything settled then made our way out of the marina. We happened to pass the "Pura Vida," a sailboat with the same name as the one Mike and I had recently donated after seven years of ownership.

Our fishing day started at the old Causeway Bridge, under the piers, for mangrove snapper. Mike had great skills, reeling in seven keepers. I caught just one keeper plus a sheepshead and a mojarra.

Mojarra are very uncommon fish in the Gulf of Mexico. They are more commonly found in the Caribbean. When I first saw it, I thought I had pulled it's mouth out but Captain Cliff assured me that this look was typical for the fish.

Vi didn't have any luck with the mangrove snappers but caught a stingray and two sheepshead.


We stayed in this area for about 1 1/2 hours then decided to go up the coastline about 15 miles to fish for speckled trout. This was a different kind of fishing and I was apparently not good at it at all. Captain Cliff brought in a trout we could keep as did Vi.


We returned to the marina about 4:30p with all of our catch. We thought it had been a pretty successful fishing day with eight mangrove snapper and two speckled trout.

Captain Cliff filleted the fish for us as the pelicans feasted on the spoils.

His recommendation for a restaurant to cook our catch for us was Blackbeard's, a restaurant on the strip not far from the condo. So we went back to the condo and made ourselves presentable for dinner. We took five of the fillets and had them fry half and blacken half. We added scallops and shrimp then picked two personal sides each.

It was wonderful food, the best of our trip.

Posted by deniseandmike 15:04 Archived in USA Tagged padre vi Comments (0)

Padre Day 5: Just Horsing Around

We all woke up around 9a the next morning to a beautiful, sunny day.

Mike immediately hit the beach for some surf fishing while Vi made us some sausage and egg breakfast tacos. We washed them down with mimosas. We fought hard for that O.J. and couldn't let it go to waste. Vi was feeling pretty tense and on the search for a massage so I drove her down the strip to a little place to get a chair massage. I worked on the trip journal while waiting for her. She felt much better and afterwards we met Mike on the beach.



We brought our game of washers so Mike dug holes to get a game set up.

No sooner did he have it set up than the beach graders came rolling by! He had to start all over.

We played in the surf.



When the beach got old, we walked over to the Wanna Wanna and Mike and Vi played some volleyball.

In the early afternoon, we got ourselves prettied up and headed north on Padre Blvd. The further north we went, the more the dunes spilled out over the road. In some places, we had to drive on the wrong side of the road to go around them. We arrived for our afternoon appointment of sunset horseback riding on the beach.


We were a nice-sized group. It was the three of us and an adult family of four from Minnesota who were in Padre for a wedding. Our guides were Colton from Nashville and Rebecca from Germany. The guides set about matching us up with horses according to our experience levels. Mike and I were the most experienced riders there, which wasn't saying a whole lot.

Mike was given a horse named Dozer.

Vi was put on Splash. She stayed at the end of the line, terrified for most of the ride for some reason.

The lady in front of me was saddled up on Pokey. I had a high school boyfriend named Pokey. That relationship didn't end well. Twice. I was pretty glad I wasn't riding Pokey. Instead, I was given Larry.

In the stalls, Larry was tied next to his girlfriend, Blondie, the only other horse with which he gets along. Apparently he's the resident bully. He wanted to be the first in line but he didn't care for the other horses smelling his rear. A real horse conundrum.

We rode across the road to the beach; we even trotted for a while. I thought I was going to bounce out of my clothes. As we walked along the surf, I couldn't get Larry to walk IN the water and Mike couldn't get Dozer to walk OUT of the water. We couldn't even see Vi as she was too far in the back. We rode up over the dunes and across the ridge to watch the sunset.


Then we crossed over to the bay side and watched the tide roll in.


The ride lasted about two hours but I think my butt lasted only about one hour. I could barely walk when we were done. It was a beautifully done ride and not one of those nose-to-nose trail rides that are so common. It was my favorite part of the trip. Of course, being the animal lover that I am, I was worried about the treatment of the horses and questioned the guides extensively about this. The horses all looked to be well taken care of and the facilities were clean and in great condition. The guides also explained that the owners have several ranches and the horses are rotated in and out to pasture to give them a break from the tourists.

After the ride, we went back to the condo and changed out of our dirty, horse clothes for dinner. We went to Laguna Bob's, a small restaurant/bar on the bayside with live music where we loaded up on pina coladas, peel and eat shrimp, and french fries. The live music wasn't really to our liking and Vi and Mike wanted to play pool so we tried next door at Louie's to see if they could play there. Louie's only had one pool table and it didn't appear to be clearing anytime soon. We were told the only other place in town with pool tables was a divey bar called Kelley's Irish Pub, right around the corner from our condo. We decided to give it a try. They played three games of pool while rocking to 80s hair band music on a table repaired with fishing line. It was our kind of divey place!

Posted by deniseandmike 20:58 Archived in USA Tagged south padre vi Comments (0)

Padre Day 4: Lending Nature a Helping Hand (or Flipper)

Feeling much better, Mike woke early today and wanted to get some surf fishing in before we started our planned activities for the day. I stayed in the condo and made breakfast. He wasn't gone too long as the only thing he could seem to catch was significant amounts of seaweed. So after breakfast, we drove down the street to the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center. The birding center is a non-profit organization set up to educate the public about the birds, flora, and fauna in the South Padre Island area.

There is a five-story tower with beautiful views of the Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.



Over 3,300 feet of boardwalk winds its way through the sanctuary.

There is a small museum that highlights the various species of birds and animals commonly found in the region.

We made our way down the boardwalk and came upon a thirsty hummingbird that had yet to fly south for the winter.


Blue heron.

Long-billed curlew (sandpiper).




Common gallinule.


We passed by several people with huge, telephoto lenses. Apparently people come from all over the world for South Texas birding. When I was in Tanzania the previous year, I met a British couple who had booked a month-long trip to South Texas for nothing but birding. As the South Padre Birding Center is only one of nine birding centers in South Texas, I'm guessing this is a prime area. We enjoyed our short time there but the humidity was about to kill us so we decided it was time to go.

Our next stop was Sea Turtle, Inc., the island's turtle rehabilitation and rescue center. Sea Turtle is also a non-profit organization, whose goal is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release turtles that have been injured or stranded. The organization also provides college scholarships to biology students and hosts a summer internship program.

The facility has large tanks serving as a home for each turtle and a sign posting its individual story. The four listed below have permanent homes at the facility as they cannot be released back to the sea.

Erika is an Atlantic Green turtle that was attacked by a predator and stranded in November 2013. She is missing her right front flipper and half of both her back flippers.

Boudreaux is an Atlantic Green turtle that stranded in July 2012. He had previously lost his back left flipper and his front flippers were tangled in fishing line attached to an old fishing rod. Due to the fishing line entanglement, he is now missing his front right flipper.

Allison, another Atlantic Green turtle, was the victim of a predator attack in 2005. She was left with only one flipper. For many years, she could only swim in circles. Then a Sea Turtle intern designed a prosthetic flipper for her. It was the first ever prosthetic turtle flipper made. Since then, they have improved on the design many times.

Merry Christmas, an Atlantic Green turtle cold-stranded on Christmas Eve in the late 1980s suffers from genetic defects.

After visiting with the turtles and making a donation to the center, we stopped at the condo to grab our fishing gear then headed to the Port Isabel pier for some afternoon fishing.


Almost right off the bat, I had a pull on the line but to my chagrin, I had caught a ray. Unfortunately, it broke the line and disappeared before we could reel it in and remove the hook. We spent the next couple of hours losing our bait to the thieves of the sea.


By now we were getting pretty hungry so we decided to try a well-recommended restaurant called Pier 19. What a mistake that was! I ordered crab stuffed shrimp topped with a hollandaise sauce that was so horrible I couldn't even finish it. Mike stuck with a plain, fried shrimp basket and they couldn't even do that well. To top it all off, the touristy pirate boat kept sailing by, firing off its cannon at us every few minutes. We couldn't get out of there fast enough.

We decided to go back to the pier and try some night fishing. It was amazingly crowded. And windy. We got a lot of strikes but no fish, although Mike did catch someone else's tackle. We gave up and went home. It was almost time for our friend, Vi, to arrive. She was joining us for the rest of the trip. She arrived about 10p and we spent some time relaxing with some drinks in the hot tub then called it a night.

Posted by deniseandmike 19:18 Archived in USA Tagged south padre vi Comments (0)

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