By Irfan Ahmad
Living in Dubai has its downsides. A few years back, when we landed at Heathrow, my then five year old son looked around and said, “Why is this airport so dirty?” Granted, London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was still a couple of years away, but the aseptic environment of Dubai poses a number of challenges for destinations targeting the Middle East traveler.
It was the summer of 2008. We had done Reykjavík the previous year and decided to go East. Jakarta and Bali were our holiday destinations. We took in Jakarta without any incident but when we checked into one of Nusa Dua’s upscale resorts in Bali, the excess of expat life in Dubai became painfully obvious. Despite the 48°C scorching heat outside, Dubai’s homes and apartments, its ubiquitous shopping malls, its restaurants and even its public transport system remain permanently set at a pleasant 20°C. The resort at Bali was, let’s say, more eco-friendly.
The humid beach resort had moist beds. The air-conditioning was there but it felt warm. A damp breeze was rustling the leaves of the palm trees outside. The sound of waves gently caressing the sandy beach also filtered through. But my children had called the resort’s maintenance crew and had them working on ways to lower the temperature in their rooms. If we had staked a tent in a camping ground they would have accepted the dank surroundings. We were paying top dollars to the resort and there was to be no compromise.
The next morning we checked out and moved into The Laguna Resort & Spa – one of the neighboring resorts – after first inspecting the thermostat in their rooms! A nice cool bed taken care of, we set out to be charmed by Bali.
We were soon approached by a person with a photo album who sweet talked us into taking a ride on a glass bottom boat to look at fishes by the coral reefs, visit an island to see turtles and then take a ride on a jet-ski and finally do some parasailing. I don’t remember how much the total cost of this was, but it was one of those things you know you will eventually get conned into doing. And we did.
The hotel had warned us that the sea was rough and it was best to avoid motorboats in the afternoon. But the ridges on the forehead of the smooth talking vendor foretold those who had succumbed to his charms before that this man had perfected his skills. He got us to agree to go on a 30 minutes boat ride into the open sea to see the corals and the multi-colored fishes and then go beyond to the distant island where turtles were bred.
The waves were strong. The frothy water was chalky. The glass bottom boat may as well have been made of lead. When we reached the corals the boatman cut off the engine and we floated. We did see some fish. But my wife and daughters had made up their mind. We were not going to see any hard shelled marine creatures procreate and watch hatchlings slip slide their way into the sea – we had already seen all that as part of a school trip to the green turtle preservation project at Sandspit beach in Karachi. We were not going to be smooth talked into staying afloat for any minute longer than what it would take us to go back to the shore.
There were no menacing waves near the shore. Terra firma beneath our feet had reassured us that all was good. There were a number of people doing the rounds on jet skis. It looked cool. Terra firma gave in to the charm of aquamarine sea water. We acquiesced. I have ridden a motorbike on land. It was a similar experience but on water. The jet skis were way cool. We drove around for a few minutes spewing a jet of water behind us and holding on to the handlebars to ensure that we did not crash into the water.
Parasailing was next. The rainbow colored parachute that you get hitched into looked beautiful in the azure blue sky which was powdered with a few wisps of white cloud. A picture postcard scene. But you had to be harnessed to the chute and the motor boat would tug you and you would fly into the great blue sky above. The consolation was that there was the sea below.
My son was the bravest amongst us. Parental pangs of fear notwithstanding, we let him fly. He told us that it was scary at first but the view from above is glorious and the adrenaline rush is worth it all. We got some great pictures of him. But the rest of us chickened. Couldn’t do it!
The hotel room we came back to was a cool 20 °C. It felt like home.