United Arab Emirates
Saturday, October 10th, 2015
The border crossing at UAE was not as usual. The first officer noticing me on bike got surprised and then directed me to a building, telling me that I have to go there. By the way, the distance between Saudi Arabia-UAE border gateways is about 6 km and there is a huge truck line, just unbelievable. I wonder how long it takes for a truck to enter Saudi Arabia.
I entered the building. After the sultry weather outside, the inside shocks me. I’ve never got used to air conditioned rooms. My documents are examined:
– Alright, you came on bike but they had to give you a document. Where is it?
– I haven’t received any documents.
– Since you walked through the Saudi Arabian border, you had to be given a document.
– No, I’ve not given any documents.
– Without the document we can’t let you in.
– There is a legal stamp on my passport that I exited Saudi Arabia and a legal visa for your country.
– Mr. Gurkan even I allow you, the customs officers will ask for those documents.
– Alright. Just give the permission and let me talk to the customs officers. I don’t want to go back those 6 km and then return. It is hot, 57°C!
The necessary documents to pass the first gate are given. Now, the customs officers are on the line. Entering the customs area I was stopped right away. First the bags had to be demounted and passed through x-ray. Then riding on bike I passed through an x-ray device for cars. They directed me a room examining my documents. Just as the former officer told me, they asked for pedestrian exit document. I told them that’s all. They shortly discussed this situation and called their superior. After a short time a man with lots of stripes entered the room. Till that time I was waiting on my feet. Seeing my bike, bags and me he wanted me to sit.
– What would you like to drink? Are you hungry?
– If possible, cold fruit juice please.
Shortly after I was eating dates and drinking fruit juice. He’s watched me on the TV. He knew that I was the first Muslim performing his Umrah traveling on bike. He ordered one of the police officers to take me back to the gateway I came from, get the necessary documents and take back by car. Wow amca (uncle in Turkish)! We went back to the Saudi Arabian border gate, got the documents and returned in a latest model Toyota Land Cruiser. It didn’t take 20 minutes. Then they saw me off. I was almost sad to leave. We had really a nice conversation. Arabian hospitality continues. About 20 km after the gate exit there was a gasoline station built on a large area. I entered this area on bike looking for a shadow place. It was overcrowded. Truck drivers, Hindus and Pakistanis performing their Umrah. Wowwww… It was praying time! I parked my bike in front of the mosque and then threw myself inside. The temperature was fixed at 57°C, the weather temperature does neither go up nor down. People ask me “where are you coming from, where are you going?” After hearing I’m performing Umrah all hell broke loose. Everybody there came to me to shake hands, to chat. Of course, also to take photos. Lunch was ordered in no. Juices, fruits everything. This lunch was offered by Hindu and Pakistani brothers. After lunch I strolled around. In one of the stores I found GSM. I asked “also with internet?” He said yes. There is a company of Abu Dhabi, EtiSalat. In this country each emirates has its own line depending on its own budget. For EtiSalat one month and 3GB internet costs 95 USD. Pretty expensive but there is no other alternative. I’ll be in this country for 3 months. In Qatar and UAE internet speed is 4G, that’s why I started to use LTE application on my phone. Afterwards, I found other companies having the same speed for lower prices.
I waited till 5 p.m. before I started to ride. The next gasoline station was 200 km ahead. An astonishing situation. In Saudi Arabia there was every 100 km at least one station except a certain region. If no stations then praying places with water stations and shadows were along the roads. It is really astonishing that there are gasoline stations only every 200 km in this richest country of the region. By the way it was funny to cross 3 countries within 24 hours. From Qatar to Saudi Arabia and then to UAE. I did this once in Europe. At Lake Constance/Bodensee you can cross Germany, Austria and Switzerland within a day. Well, it was much pleasant to ride through the green nature. Among Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia you traverse the desert for 140 km. This is really boring. I really got sick of being covered with sand particles after each sand storm, my mouth, nose, ears, even my ass… From Morocco on I’m riding through desert. Really I’m drying out.
After this three countries adventure there is no need to cover too much distance the first day and got worn out. On my phone I had a message from one of my countrymen: “Where are you? Send me the coordinates, we are coming to pick you up” Sukru Abi (elderly brother in Turkish) is the owner of a bakery in Dubai. “Thank you, please don’t bother coming here. It’ll take 400 km here and 400 km back. I’m already heading towards you.” They arrived at 10 p.m. with all the children and family members to the place where I was camping. About 15 people. Since I’m traveling abroad I usually mention about the hospitality of the people of that region. But it is true that we Turks are also very hospitable. In each situation and each occasion we show our hospitality. At the town Ruwais on the road the couple Burcu and Akin invited me to their house. After 4 days of tent life I was glad to be invited and of course accepted their invitation.
Akin is working for a petroleum company in this region. This is the area where the country’s petroleum is drilled and refined. Also Ruwai was the biggest city in this region surrounded by walls with a single city entrance. Everybody living in this city was working for this company. I guess I’m talking about ten thousands of people living here. It was a huge area. The school expenses for the children, house rents, water and electricity bills, every expense was covered by the government. It was astonishing that this area was green and forested. Just a day ago I was caught in such a sand storm before arriving here. After a point I couldn’t move forward and sought for shelter inside a construction covering my face. Now, I’m in a green area.
The railway construction works are continuing in this region. Their future goal is to build a railway till Mecca. This railway will reach Istanbul via Jordan and Syria. Why not, if they succeed it will be amazing. But the fragility of this region is known. Furthermore, the director of Jordan Railways said: “These railways belong to the Turks, they should come and fix. We’ll bring it into service”. First, these minds should change.
While moving towards Abu Dhabi I came upon a road construction. There aren’t any alternatives to highways in this region. 5 lanes with an emergency shoulder. From the presence this road construction I can say that this will be 8 lanes. It was really dangerous to ride there, the emergency shoulder was closed. Therefore I started to pedal on the part made for the trucks inside the construction area. There were also tents and cold water stations. What else do I need? : )
Though hardly I could arrive in Abu Dhabi. It is really difficult to ride in to the city. I couldn’t enter the side streets since I was just unable to exit the highway. On 5 lanes the traffic speed was high. I came to a spot where I had to cross the road. But there weren’t any crosses. Just at that moment a police car stopped in front of me. Aha this is might the opportunity. I asked them: “I’m coming from Turkey traveling on bike. Could you please stop the cars for me?” He answered as yes looking surprised. Police car’s sirens sounded. They let the cars stop and I crossed the road. At the end I’m on the other side of the road. : ) Dude, I made the cars on the highway to stop. Hahahha. Then, I went to the Turkish Embassy.
Embassy building of Turkish Republic in Abu Dhabi is an elegant construction built in 2014. Mrs. Merve and Mr. İlham were waiting for me. Shaima I whom met in Qatar had told about me to her family. Her brother thought at first “no way, he must be lying. He is taking car for sure.” Her sister told him to follow me on the tracking system on my web page. Then on he kept asking his sister when I’ll come. Well, I’ll initially stay in their house in Abu Dhabi.
Before meeting with them I visited our ambassador Mr. Levent. I told him what I had undertaken till now, about my voyage and my plans for the future. Then, we talked about what we can undertake together in the UAE. The next days I delivered a presentation at the embassy and gave interviews for the national newspapers. I stayed at the embassy. I would like to thank them once again.
I stayed at Shaima’s parent’s house in Abu Dhabi. She has two sisters and two brothers. Their father Mr. Salih works for an oil company. He is also a good photographer. He took photos of Abu Dhabi in 1970, then once again took photos at the same spots in 2015. He was awarded for this work in UAE. All her daughters have their own professions. Imman is a famous makeup specialist. Sana is an athlete. Her brother Sultan asked me hundreds of questions. In the upcoming weeks I was on the newspapers. Sultan mentioned about me in his school and said “He is staying at our house”. Nobody believed him. At our next appointment we made selfies with his smart phone. He had to show to his friends. : ).. Shaima’s mother cooked delicious meals for me. Since there were 3 women in the house the variety of the meals were rich. During Ramadan I was also invited for Iftar (evening meal at sunset during Ramadan fast). Also Shaima cooks very well but rather prefers to eat. : ) I went to fruit and fish market together with the family.
While I stayed in Abu Dhabi I went to Sheikh Zayed Mosque once with Shaima just for a touristic visit and once with Mehmet the Informatics director of Emirates Hotel for Friday pray. I must admit that it was the most glamorous mosque I have ever seen. Let’s say the most luxury mosque. The biggest chandaliers (made of Swaroski) are in this mosque. The biggest carpet (made in Iran) is in this mosque. All the materials used for the construction of this mosque were imported from all corners of the world. The glazed tile ceramics came from Turkey. Its design is awesome!
On the forbidden signboard one sentence caught my attention: “It is forbidden to pose lying down in the courtyard” How come? Why one poses lying down? I asked Shaima what it means. Rihanna came to this mosque and posed lying down in the courtyard in the shots. After her people came to the mosque mimicking her pose. Then it was forbidden.
I was looking for a 2 L capacity thermos bottle for a long time. At the end I found one in UAE. But this time I didn’t have the suitable case on my bike. I solved this problem going to industrial area together with Yusuf husband of embassy employee Ebru and finding there a specialist from Hatay (Turkey). Also, Tur Assist company one of my sponsors sent a polar coverage for this thermos bottle and the other water bottles. This polar cover prevents the water from heating up and also keeps water chilly for long time when wetted.
One night we went out with Ebru, Merve, Ilham and Yusuf. Ladies night is held twice a week in every bar in UAE. The drinks are free for women.
Another night I was invited to Mr. Ahmet’s house employee of the embassy. I was choked up with Turkish meals in Abu Dhabi. I really ate a lot. Wow.
The last day before I set off for Dubai I was invited to Emirates Palace by Mehmet. I said I was chocked up, well not yet. He invited me to a dinner. The Emirates Palace is really an unrivaled hotel. I ordered coffee which was served with 5 grams of gold powder spread on top.
I exactly said this to Mehmet: “My stomach is not used to drink coffee with gold, I might constipate Well, it didn’t go through me like a dose of salts. But better not to drink much. : ) …. There is an ATM for gold in the lobby of the hotel. That’s the right thing for my country. Put one of these ATM’s in front of the wedding saloons with internet connection to revise every 30 seconds for the gold rate. It will sell like hot cakes. : ) I liked this.
Then Mehmet took me to my suit (heheh). I paid 5000 USD for a night stay. What do you think I carry in my bags? Wad of cash. I don’t stay always in tents. Everything is gold coated. It is said that 8.5 tons of gold was used for this hotel. Half of it for rooms. We passed through an alley I thought we were in the lobby but it turned out that we were still in the suit. There were 6 rooms in the suit.
A large living room, a dining room and so on. You’ll need a whole day to explore the suite. I checked the beds, uncomfortable. I want my money back. I’m going to sleep in my tent this night. : P
Just kidding. The hotel is awesome! Thank you Mehmet.
The road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai takes 132 km. This is the distance between my starting and end points at least. There is only one road, a highway. I expect the weather temperature to be above 50°C. Therefore, the most rational option will be to set off in the early hours of morning, resting at noon time and then to restart in the evening. Therefore I set off at 5 a.m.
There were many gasoline stations along the road. Men! There wasn’t a single station till Abu Dhabi for 400 km, then 5 stations within 132 km. Anyway, I came to the entrance of Dubai taking only short rests along the road. I met two engineers on the road. One of them was Firat, the other’s name I have forgotten. : ) They belonged to the crew establishing the speed radars on the roads in UAE. In one of the stations we had a conversation.
It is easy to ride on bike inside Dubai but trying to enter the side streets from the main road can be challenging. Throughout the city, especially at the coast line there are bicycle roads. I was really relieved when I came to Jumerai.
Well, who are the people I’ll be staying for the next days with in Dubai? Brian Gilroy and Aysen Tosya Gilroy. Aysen is the aunt of my friend Barbaros Tosya who I know for 18 years. I also know her for 14 years. : ).. That is I’m going to stay with family members. While looking around a car passed me people inside screaming and waving Turkish flags. While I was wondering what the hell this was, I saw two cyclists pedaling towards me.
Yonca Tokbas and Zeliha who will be my walking companions for the next days. : ). Riding for 132 km under 57°C my enthusiasm was not as high as Yonca when we met. Both my face faded and pulse went up. I was so tired and at the same time was shocked. I got surprised that they pedaled at this hot weather. Also her daughter Destina and son Aslan Cem came over. After hugging each other we pedaled together the rest of the road. Lastly Enes had accompanied me on bike in Morocco. I was on my own since then. As we entered the street the kids waiting in front of the house started to run towards us. Everybody was screaming, applauding, congratulating and weaving Turkish flags. I didn’t know what to say. I was about to cry while staying in front of the door and saying “thank you very much to all of you!” Glad that the kids didn’t see I was crying. My tears were mixing with the sweat running down. I was tired and happy.
(among the hundreds of photos I couldn’t find those moments : )
Aysen took me to my room. Showed the shower. I wanted to stay under cold water for hours but the water was too hot. : ). I told what I’m doing, where I have been shortly to the guests showing up that night. The responses of the kids were also very interesting
– Mum, he is a spider man, like a superman!
– Mum, people say Turks are lazy. Look what all he did!
Because of Arda Tokbas we had Turkish dishes for dinner. The next days I delivered presentations at GMS Welington, Metropolitan and Dubai American Schools for a total of 1000 students. The feedbacks of the teenagers were awesome. The GMS schools in Dubai belong to a single family from India. Once they gave English lessons to the regional princes then when foreign schools were allowed this family got the permission to open schools which are quite successful. Sports events and art works take an important part in school schedule.
Let me tell you what caught my eyes in Dubai: There are three underground lines. The prices depend on the distance you travel. The underground closes at 3 a.m. Every employee at the stations speaks English. This is true also for the police officers. The sellers are mostly Pakistani or Hindu women. The police officers are UAE citizens. All the underground trains are operated automatically there aren’t any drivers. One of the front wagons is called as gold wagon. Its price is also higher compared to that of others. They all are designed for 18 people to seat. They are generally empty. If you work and live along one of the lines you should use the underground. There is a tremendous traffic in the country. Even though there are 3 main roads 1 km apart from each other there is a traffic jam inside the city. On top, each the main roads have 8 lanes forth and 8 lanes back. Two of the wagons are only for women. There isn’t any gender separation women can also use the other wagons. Also men don’t think: “Look at this woman she is not using the wagon assigned for her. If she stands among us she is willing to have sex.” This way of thought is not true for the people in this country. When I shared a photo on my facebook site related to this issue such comments were written by women and men of my own country!! Once I asked an English teacher why she preferred to live in this country. Her reply was “in my country there isn’t such a mentality.” : )
Apart this, traveling by car inside the city and trying to find a parking place is a real torture. If you go to a shopping mall this doubles. It took us 45 minutes to exit the parking place of Emirates Shopping Mall. There aren’t any parking lot attendants. Except some spots parking is free. If not there are parking meters or codes written on P boards which you send via SMS. An SMS is then sent you backing asking for how long you will park. For example you write 1 hour. 5 minutes before time is up an SMS is sent to you whether you prolong your stay. Let’s say you didn’t answer and traffic police came and controlled from the system. The fine is 30 USD. Inside the city the speed limit is 120 km/h. There are radars everywhere. If you get caught a fine is sent to your house, 82 USD. The traffic accidents are due to almost every time emirates citizens. They test the power of their latest model cars on narrow streets. The result is no good.
There wasn’t anything 40 years ago in Dubai. Then it started to develop and became what it is to be today 15 years ago. That is people riding on camels to Al-Ain town are driving their latest model cars nowadays. It is usually said that UAE has oil reserves, has money and comfort. Oil is not drilled in Dubai Emirates. Oil is drilled in Abu Dhabi, processed and stored in Fujairah Emirates and exported to the other countries through Indian Ocean. Dubai is the advertisement face of the country. For example the most expensive police cars are here. Not because of low taxes or low oil prices, they buy a 5 million USD car turn into police car and make 50 million USD value advertisement. The newspapers are full of such stories. There are tourists taking photos of those cars. 14 million tourists have entered the country in 2014. Dubai airport is the second after Atlanta airports in terms of passenger numbers. They put interest in tourism business. Well, what does this country offer? Why tourists come here? Honestly from Saudi Arabian border till Dubai there is nothing for 350 km. Only desert and towns. By the way, they are building the biggest Lego Land, biggest animation studios in the world, Ferrari World and some other huge projects in this area. There is a legendary museums quarter in Abu Dhabi though not completed yet. They are building a second Louvre Museum. For the opening they might bring Mona Lisa for exhibition. The Arabian sheiks have collected unique art objects throughout the world. Among them is an amazing collection of 200 pieces of paintings. Furthermore, these buildings are to be nature friendly. Some of the top position architects of this project are Turkish women.
Let me give some information about green energy issue: In June 9th 2015 Germany succeeded in producing 50% of its electricity supply from solar energy. Germany with 85 million population was providing electricity from charcoal, hydroelectric plants, natural gas imported from Russia and by 17 nuclear plants. Towards mid 2000s Germany started to spend the money from surplus energy for R&D and focused on solar energy. Then the country started to shut down nuclear energy plants one by one. Between the years 2008-2015 exactly 9 nuclear plants were shut down in Germany. The impact of those nuclear plants on country’s economy is 9 million USD which is directed to green energy investments. Why I’m talking about this: While on the road I first saw a nuclear plant construction, then solar energy parks constructed in the middle of the desert. This country is investing in solar energy. Of course, this country does not make R&D but directly buys. Well, a rich country investing wisely.
In this context you can make a quick research in Google. “How much Turkey pays for natural gas imported from Russia and Iran, how many milliards of USD? How much is the yearly cost of the present electricity supply network? What type of investment is required for solar energy systems, does Turkey have the necessary infrastructure and technology for such an investment or has to import, if so how is it to be financed, how can I install solar panels?” The answers to those questions are in Europe, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea, China… They are always coming in front of my eyes. I saw the most environmentalist investments in those countries. While traveling, I also observed what those countries had undertaken to come to their present situation. It is not a sudden jump to switch to green energy. It is a stepwise process which needs to be examined.
I feel myself at home in Aysen and Brian’s house. Watching Sinan and Melis reminded me my brother. We fought a lot when we were at the age 15. I guess we did our last fight at those ages. Almost every week I call my brother and we chat. He talks about the latest in Turkey and about his work (he works as insurer). Talks about mum and dad. If he can make it he will come to Cape Town together with my parents. During my stay in Dubai I walked with Aysen and jogged with Yonca every morning. With Zuhal I went to the stores for deficient equipment. Idil wife of Yonca’s brother Fuat made new cards for me. I had nice days in Dubai Turkish restaurant visits with Gamze, UAE tour with Sukru, Ramadan Feast with Yusuf and Ebru. With the most competent desert driver of Saudi Arabian Peninsula Sukru we had amazing days. To tell the truth I have so many memories and details experienced at this Dubai stop.
One day Kerim called me: “Gurkan let’s ride on the bicycle track”. Well, there is an amazing bicycle track in Dubai. About 127 km long, a road assigned for bicycles only. It has a butter smooth asphalt. It is cleaned regularly due to sand accumulation. There are resting areas and shadows at distinct intervals. At two points there are parking lots, toilets and showers. All very clean. At the starting point there is a bike shop renting Trek brand bicycles. I rented a bicycle equipped with carbon Ultegra set for 19 USD and pedaled for 50 km. : ) It was awesome. My performance is not bad also endurance but in terms of speed I’m not so good. I’ll do this in future, this speed issue haunts me. : )
To leave UAE was hard. I had a long term pause. Then, riding on a 60 kg bicycle … Ugh : ). After Dubai it took me 3 days to reach the border. Shaima’s cousin Ahmed hosted me. We toured in Al-Ayn together. He hosted me in Rotana Hotel a five stars hotel. This was the second I stayed in a five stars hotel. The first was in St. Petersburg. It is hard to switch to tent after staying at a hotel.
To be continued in Oman…