[ The United Arab Emirates 🇦🇪 D+236, 11,378 km – October 27th to November 1st ]
⛴️ Landing in Dubai by bike.
The ferry is approaching a coastline from which not a single strand of the horizon can be seen. In the night that has fallen, we discover an illuminated army of parallelpipedal, phallic, octagonal, curved, pointed, twisted silhouettes: there is something for everyone!
Paradoxically, we feel calmer: we have FINALLY changed countries. That’s it!
We don’t like the city, the buildings and even less the idea we have of Dubai, but who cares! We are OUT! Well, almost.
There’s one last detail: the day before the ferry (at 10pm), we realised that we needed a PCR test to enter the Emirates. We played the “they won’t check, and if they do, we hand them a QR code they can’t read” card. We know it’s a gamble but we have no choice. We will NOT RETURN to Iran, even if we have to get down on our knees at customs.
As soon as we disembark, an officer yells at us: we have to get on the bus! We explain to him that we have to get our bikes back: we have to get on the bus! He gets angry, boils, stamps and gets impatient. Before imploding, the captain explains that we have to get our bikes back. As he realises his error of judgement, he raises his voice even more to regain his composure. It’s both comical and unpleasant but whatever.
We are put in a separate room (the one for foreigners who are not covered by a full veil or a gandoura). The wait is interminable: the hyper-high-tech machine that reads passports by itself doesn’t work. None of our passports passes the terminal and all the staff is scrambling around to figure it out. The man VS machine battle begins 🕹️.
It will take us not far from 3 hours for them to finally comply with a good old fashioned customs stamp. And no PCR-test checked, we go for it! (or almost… Another good hour to scan the panniers of all the bikes for the first time of the trip and ask Raph about the strange content of his water bottle: “send! “send?” “beach” “send bitch?” “oh, sand! beach you mean! OH YAYAYA!” …)
We hit the traffic, at night.
The transition is brutal: the vehicles are of a power and speed that we had forgotten! They are lined up, each in their own lane, one by one. It is square, even confusing. The horns have changed dynamics: they are no longer there to greet us, but to invite us to get out of the way. We feel out of step, in Dubai on a bike, with our big bags in the middle of all these gigantic illuminated signs: is this New York?
Here, we discover that we can order a helicopter on Uber! No time, do it faster !
And then a scooter stops, a Moroccan man greets us: “Enjoy Dubai! It’s hard to imagine how, but then again, who cares: we’re out of Iran!
New space, but no Emiratis.
We found the cheapest hotel in town: it’s still overpriced, but it’s hardly possible to camp around for a week.
After a good hour on the highway of the skyscrapers, we discover with delight that the lodging is held by an Indian: we get closer! Hilarious, we discover that they put our bags on a luggage trolley: the absurdity is at its height.
Serge, the bouncer, explains to us that there are 8 nightclubs (Pakistani, Bengali, Indian…) with or without dancers in the building, “because people here are shy, they don’t want to be seen going out and then coming back accompanied, there at least, they can just go upstairs”. It’s unbelievable.
/The hidden side of Dubai.
💸 Gold on sand.
While we were looking forward to having a drink legally, we quickly went downhill when we discovered the prices charged. Yet we are in the cheapest area of the city: here, an astronomical number of people have arrived from abroad thinking of making a fortune in the Emirates before finding themselves stuck there. It’s quite simple, in one week, we have met ZERO “local” people. We can finally play the “where are you from” game. And such a diversity of cultures in such a small space: it’s confusing!
Only one thing doesn’t change from Iran: the sound of the minaret. In every restaurant, market, shop, car park, every little nook and cranny has its microphone to assiduously transcribe the prayers.
While we are discovering “modernity”, all the shops close one after another: it’s prayer time. What they didn’t tell us is that it’s THE prayer. Suddenly people are lining up everywhere with their rugs side by side. From the parks to the pavements to the road, the traffic is blocked and people start bowing on the rhythm of the loudspeakers chanting. It’s amazing. The whole city seems to have come to a standstill.
Fifteen minutes. And then everything starts again, even faster!
The biggest activities of the biggest tower of the biggest mall of the biggest scam of the biggest souk of the biggest artificial ski slope of the most luxurious hotel of the biggest air traffic of the biggest wallet of the biggest excess of the biggest absurdity: welcome to Dubai!
Unless you are a student of architecture, the interest of the place does not jump out at you. You spend almost your entire month’s budget on practically nothing. Everything is imported, frozen. So when we get to the beach, the question arises: is it the original sand, or is it the finest, most hypoallergenic, sandy sand of the rarest island in the unknown archipelago of a tax haven?
📦 The masters of the package.
In this curious transition, we are accompanied by our two German friends on bikes -Monica & Bernardht-, met on the ferry! Like us, they are going all the way to India, before heading East.
They take the plane one day earlier: that’s enough to teach us the art of folding and tetris -the German way: after two long hours, they manage to fit their two bicycles in the cardboard without even taking advantage of the elasticity of this material: it’s straight, it’s impeccable. It’s perfect. Not even a “blister”. Bravo!
🛫 The same day comes the time to say goodbye to Raph, who takes his flight back to Montreal and to his Doudou: enjoy the fish&chips! 💖.
🔎 Looking for the lost boxes.
Now it’s our turn. We thought of a lot of things for the departure but we “underplayed” the difficulty of one task: “finding a box is easy, we’ll see later!”. Not in Dubai, obviously.
No bins. Nowhere. Waste is suddenly invisible. Nothing is lying around. We comb the whole neighbourhood, the post office, the parcel companies, the electronics, electrical and sports shops, the shopping centres… Nothing! In the best of cases, we find a few boxes that have just been emptied but “too small”. So at nightfall, Anai tries everything and enters the transit area for planes and freighters “the Sea and Sky logistic hangar”: where EVERYTHING arrives: a real labyrinth where thousands of people are busy unloading, loading, emptying, filling, closing, connecting, driving… One thing is sure: this is THE cardboard paradise! After asking about thirty people, Anai gets tired. We end up taking her to a shed that does custom packing with one detail: it’s for wooden boxes : might be a bit heavy na. All the other boxes are not made to measure. The plane takes off tomorrow and still no box. So GG ends up contacting one last bike shop, a little further on.
Our last chance. BINGO! He has two. A South Indian, who ends up SELLING us his “bin”! Tired, we end up giving him 7 euros; our faithful steeds are worth it!
The next day, it’s off to the Tetris, in the gloomy basement of the hotel -under the empty gaze of groups of unwelcoming Chinese.
It’s a surprisingly simple affair: saddles, luggage racks, wheels, handlebars, pedals, crutches, everything is easily dismantled!
The only problem is how to fit it all into such a small box! We slip clothes into the hollows, trinkets into the corners. We stuff a little.
By dint of pushing and pulling we end up almost joining the two ends of the box, quickly quickly, let’s tape it up! Come on, let’s do 10 laps! It’s yawning, it’s swollen, but it will do! Let’s go ! Let’s fly to India, tchallo!
⚖️ “It’s over 32kg, it’s not allowed”.
Are you sure?
Despair: it’s the bike’s box that she points to.
“It’s true that it was a bit heavy…”
After a delicate opening-closing operation (without having any knife or tape at hand), we fly to India now, come on! Tchallo for real!
🇮🇳 Delhi. Mother India.
Arrival at 3am, without having slept in. Our mounts finally arrive, the wheel axles have punctured the two boxes. The reconstitution of the puzzle on wheels does not look good.
In the middle of the airport luggage belts, we assiduously start assembling the first bike, almost easily. The tyres are inflated and we congratulate ourselves: nothing seems to be missing!
We attack the second bike with our eyes already less in front of the holes. As we take the frame out of the box, the fork slips off the handlebars, the ball bearings fall off, the joints follow. We widen our eyes a little more:
“Did you know that this was there?”
“No. Was it above or below?”
And here we are, groping around, trying to put a seal here and a bearing here. In one direction and then the other and then all in the same place. Never mind, that’ll do.
The problems continue: the chain has made a knot. After a quarter of an hour, we start to despair. An airport employee asks us “Chai?”, we answer him “Bike fixing?” He immediately gets down to work, without seeming to know what he’s doing, he pulls on the chain, fiddles, pulls, turns and paf! He has just saved us. Without doubt the best tea of the trip! Let’s go!
🛺 Crossing Delhi.
While we imagined leaving early and avoiding the traffic, here we are outside at the rush hour of the Indian capital.
We are seriously tired and after a few kilometres we say to ourselves that it was a really stupid idea. GG’s handlebars wobble and then the fork screams: we start to understand the importance of these tiny parts.
The traffic intensifies, we ride on the left, everything is reversed, the pollution is tasty, the cows are dragging, the tuktuks are coming, the trucks are driving, everyone is forcing their way through, the horns are making a very long and continuous strident sound (and slightly aggressive in the morning): no doubt, we are in Delhi!
“Ah no, we can’t get run over now!”
After 40 very long kilometres we see it: the Tibetan quarter! Majnu Ka Tila! Prayer flags fly on the roofs of the settlement. The faces are familiar. We made it! 😳😃
Looking back, this cycling through Delhi will have been a necessary rough transition after a giant leap from Dubai to India!