Abdallah bin Jassim, a Dubaian historian who manages the Saeed Al- Maktoum Museum Home, pointed to an elderly man sitting beside me. "You want to sail on an Arab dhow? You're lucky today! Talk to him! He was a nakhuda (captain) of a pearl-diving dhow, the best skipper in the Arabian Gulf." Abdullah, a distinguished-looking gentleman, more dignified in his flowing Arab dress, seemed quite proud of the former dhow skipper.
After introductions, I asked the soft-spoken nakhuda to tell me about his seafaring life and if pearl-diving in dhows still exists.
"Pearl-diving in dhows? Of course not!" he responded. "Youth today are spoiled! All they look for are the pleasures of life. It wasn't like this when I was young." After this succinct complaint, Ubayd al-Muhayri, the former dhow captain, smiled.
I asked if he yearned to sail the Arab dhows again. Amused, he replied, "Sail again! I am 75 years old. Do you know that pearl-diving was a part of hell? Yet, for me the old days are preferable. Then, we did not worry about material wealth. We were content to live on dates and coffee."
A tear came to his eye as he reminisced about his youthful years: "I was eight years old when my father first took me with him on a dhow. When I turned fifteen, he took me down some 15 m (50 ft) to the bottom of the sea and taught me how to find the pearl-carrying oysters in the deep. For a hundred days every year, we worked the oyster beds. That is, until I became a skipper of a dhow; it was a harsh life but I was content."
As I bade Abdallah Jassim and the former nakhuda adieu, I craved to sail on an Arab dhow, but like most visitors who yearn to sail in these once cherished crafts, I knew time had passed me by. Yet, I would taste the pleasure of travelling the seas on a dhow even if it had to be tourist style.
That evening, my wish was granted. As we boarded our decked-up tourist craft, anchored on the shore of Dubai Creek, I looked around. The dhow of the bygone years had been transformed into a tourist ship par excellence. Everything was spick-and-span from the white tablecloths and the clean uniforms of the crew to the varnished planks of the deck. It was apparent that the old had been replaced by the new.
The waves of Dubai Creek gently lapped and rhythmically swayed the ship, and with Arabic music in the background, we feasted on tasty Arab food. Amidst cool soothing breezes, we smoothly moved along the creek past dhows loading and unloading goods, as they have done for centuries. The purr of the motors and the gentle wind lulled us as we sailed in the shadows of sky-reaching edifices that would have been considered magical structures years ago.
The passengers, a majority of European expatriates and tourists, seemed content and probably unaware of the history of these ships. I sat back and fantasized about the past while watching an oriental dancer entrance my fellow passengers. The heritage and atmosphere of the dhow transported me back to the era of The Arabian Nights and Sinbad the Sailor when dhows like this carried back spices, poetry and, of course, romance from distant lands.
Habeeb Salloum has authored numerous books, his latest: Arab Cooking On A Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes And Recollections - winner of the Cuisine Canada and The University of Guelph's Silver Canadian Culinary Book Awards in Winnipeg in 2006. He contributes to Forever Young (Oakville), Contemporary Review (Oxford, UK), Canadian World Traveller (Quebec) and the Toronto Star.
- Most western European, American and Canadian citizens can enter the UAE without a prior visitor's visa; they can obtain their visas at the entry points.
- Car rental is reasonable. A small auto, fully insured, rents for about $30 per day, less if you bargain. Roads are excellent.
- The U.S. dollar is equal to 3.67 UAE dirhams. The rate has remained the same for over two decades. Exchange cash or traveller cheques at the money exchangers; they do not take a commission.
- Major international hotel chains are well represented in Dubai, and there are other reasonably priced and excellent hotels throughout the city.
- One can dine for as low as $5, but the average cost of a meal in a good restaurant or hotel runs from $20 to $50 US. For luxury dining, try the Al-Boom Tourist Village with its series of restaurants, some located on dhows.
- Travellers should not leave Dubai without going on a desert safari which offers sand dunning, camel riding and a desert feast. Other activities include horse and camel racing events during cool winter months.
- Dubai is a shopper's dream world; its many huge modern malls offer products from all nations on the globe. The most popular gifts are: Arabian coffee pots, silver and wooden miniature dhows, gold jewellery, Persian carpets and Arabian curved daggers.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
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