Monday, April 7th. This was going to be a relevantly uneventful day. All we had to do was bus back to Dubai, take the subway to the airport, board our flight to Amman, pick up our rental car, and drive 3-4 hours to the red sea port of Aqaba where we would be going on a dive the next morning. As it turned out the day had something completely different in store for us.
It all started to go “tits up” (an expression that’s very English and for which I’m unapologetic) upon arrival at the Abu Dhabi buts station. It turned out that all of the public transport in the United Arab Emirates works on a card system, much like the orca card we have here in Seattle, you simply add credit to the cards balance in order to use it on public transport such as buses and subways. If you don’t have enough credit for the full fare of a particular journey, you have to top up the card in order to use it. Which is all pretty simple, unless you happen to be at the Abu Dhabi public bus station, and you happen to be one Dirham short on each of your two bus cards.
Not only were none of the vending machines that allowed you to put credit on your cards working, but in order to purchase brand-new bus tickets, you needed to have cash, which we didn’t have since this was our last day in the United Arab Emirates. To make matters worse, there were no ATMs in or near the bus station, at least any that were working.
So we were facing a dilemma, which was growing worse by the fact that time was pressing and the first bus to Dubai had already left without us. I did have the two extra dirhams that we needed, but no one was allowing us to pay the difference on the cards in cash. Each card essentially had 24 dirhams left on it and each of the bus fares was 25 to Dubai.
Getting super frustrated, Matt set off to find an ATM nearby while I improvised and try to find a way around the problem. As per usual in a foreign country, it was not the fact that the machines weren’t working, nor the fact that there was no ATM nearby, it was the fact that nobody seemed to offer any sort of assistance nor anything but a blank stare when I explained our predicament to them and asked for help and understanding.
Eventually, thinking outside the box saved the day. I explained our plight to a local who spoke perfect English. He sympathized with us, and essentially took our cards as payment for paying for two one-way tickets for us on the bus himself in cash. I was so grateful to him and eagerly motioned for Matt to give up his ATM search and join me on the next bus that was departing. It was already starting to get a little late.
Finally breathing a sigh of relief on the bus, it wasn’t until 30 minutes into our journey that I turned to Matt in horrified realization. “Please tell me you remembered to grab our passports out of the hotel room safe?”
Matt’s eyes closed as he started swearing under his breath.
Next thing I knew, Matt had asked the bus driver to pull over on the side of the highway for us to get out and catch a cab presumably. While he was busy pulling our suitcases out of the luggage hold, a group of locals were exhorting me not to get off the bus because nobody would be able to pick us up on the highway! I expressed this concern to Matt, who logically stated that there was no point getting any further away from the one thing that was gonna enable us to get on a plane to another country that day: our passports!
So we disembarked the bus and I will forever have stamped in my memory the image of Matt carrying his luggage in the opposite directions of traffic on the hard shoulder of the highway from Abu Dhabi in the glaring midday sun. After a few minutes of walking towards what we hoped was a slip road, a taxicab pulled over only to inform us that it was against the law to pick up any individual on the highway! I guess he thought we were in some sort of physical trouble (which we sort of were) but it wasn’t worth €3000 fine that he would receive if he took us back to the city.
Ever less hopeful, we resumed our belabored walk back to the slip road, knowing full well that if we did not secure a ride back to the city within the next few minutes, there was no earthly way we were going to be able to check in on time at the airport.
Lucky for us, a pickup truck pulled over and a Sri Lankan man by the name of Rosita picked us up telling us he would take us to the taxi rank for the little town that we were in. So we threw our luggage in the back and got in. After elaborating on our story, Rosita made a U-turn and showing extraordinary kindness, declared that he would take us back to our hotel, an easy hour and a half out of his day!
An unplanned benefit to this predicament was our chance to talk to Rohita for the next 25 minutes about what life is like for him as a construction site supervisor and immigrant to the United Arab Emirates. He spoke of how the Emirati were a class of men all their own, neither requiring nor caring to follow any rules and laws of this state other than the ones that precluded them from drinking alcohol in public. There was never any doubt who was in charge, and for the most part, Rosita spoke of how immigrants were looked down upon, mistreated, and if they were lucky enough to also be female, perhaps not even paid the full $700 the average service worker made (for example staff at our hotel) a month. He did, however, speak with tremendous enthusiasm about his wife and new baby boy back home in Sri Lanka, very excited to be flying home the next week to see them again.
Thanking Rohita profusely, we jumped out of the truck — Matt grabbing cash from the ATM for what was going to be one of the more expensive taxi rides of our trip, and I ran into the lobby to grab our passports.
It was an hour and a half’s journey to Dubai airport, it was 12:45 PM, and our flight left at 3:30 PM. We might just make it.
Unfortunately, our taxi driver very much obeyed the speed limit (it would seem that many of the locals fear breaking any Emirati rules) and also insisted on making a stop to get gas despite having half a tank, more than likely to simply reset his meter which he didn’t want to go over certain amount.
We arrived at the airport with 45 minutes to go before the plane took off. Unfortunately for us, we as yet did not have our boarding passes and were told with very stern and unrelenting faces that we had absolutely no chance of making the flight if we hadn’t already checked in. There was no question we would’ve actually made the flight, it would simply appear that they had given our seats away since we had not checked in online before.
Feeling emotionally worn out from the anxiety of the day, we headed off to rebook our tickets and were lucky enough to be allowed to fly out first thing in the morning for only €100 change fee. Of course it wasn’t the money that was disappointing, it was the fact that that was our one day to go diving in the Red Sea. But it couldn’t be helped, and so Matt and I sat down at Café Costa, grabbed a coffee and try to get online to find somewhere to stay the night.
We chose the Holiday Inn at the airport since we would need to be getting up so early the next day for our plane. By the time we got to our room we were ravenously hungry and didn’t really feel like doing much else in Dubai. We sat in the hotel’s bar and ordered a bucket of ice cold beer and some beef kebabs and tried to have a good laugh about the day.
Snuggling up and finishing Lawrence of Arabia in bed seemed like a really great way to end it anyways.