Dubai Travelers Festival – A world apart

(this post was writen on december 18, 2017)

When I received an email four weeks ago with the subject ‘Dubai Travelers Festival‘ and starting with ‘Under the patronage of His highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum – Crown Prince of Dubai.’ I wasn’t sure what to think. The website about the festival hadn’t been updated since 2015. But at least I could tell the festival existed and I saw a few familiar faces of other travelers on the pictures. One of those travelers recommended me to definitely take the invitation and a few days later I got confirmation of the festival of my participation, all on their expenses.
The ticket only arrived the day before my departure and the hotel reservation came in when I was at the airport. Apart from knowing that I’d have to do a 30 minute speech I had no idea what to expect.

Wait, let’s go back in time for a little bit, to four weeks ago when I received the first email.
At that moment I was sitting on the couch of my temporary address (a whole house to myself, I felt richer then a prince!). It was about four days after I arrived back to the Netherlands. At that time the world had become one big haze to me since two days. I felt sick; headache, nauseous, dizzy, unstable, slept really long or hardly at all and wasn’t sharp at all. In fact, I felt like I was only half alive. A few weeks prior I’d been cycling full days in the Irish rain, now I could barely walk 10 minutes along the canal. With every step it seemed like I had to stabelise and refocus my view. ‘WHAT ON EARTH is going on?’ I wondered.

To be completely honest, I’d kind of felt it coming, maybe partially unaware. The months prior while biking and also in the Netherlands over summer I’d regurarly felt a bit ‘hazy’. But now it hit me really hard. Talking to friends (some of them working in mental healthcare) I came to the conclusion that it’d have something to do with my adventurous way of living, combined with a somewhat sensitive and maybe vulnerable ‘mind’.

I replied to the festival that I was interested to fly to ‘crazy’ Dubai and dive into the unknown of the middle East while at that moment I couldn’t even manage to walk to the grocery store. I had no idea if it’d work out, but since it wasn’t until 3,5 weeks later, I felt like I had some time.

Throughout the weeks I crawled up a little keeping rest, making puzzles, meditate, read, watching movies and go for walks. In the third weeks suddenly anxiety popped up. Had I been camping in the most remote places, surrounded by wildlife, now on the couch of a comfi house in my calm city anxiety kept me in its grip for days.
To my relieve that faded again after a few days, but until the day before departure I wasn’t completely sure wether I should go to Dubai.

I decided to go. And while the first snow fell in Holland I traveled to the airport to fly to sunnier places.

At arrival in Dubai I already met some of the other travelers who got invited. One man who’d visited all the 193 countries of the world and a 23 year old guy from Morocco who’s been traveling around Africa for the last three years, by foot, bicycle and skateboard. And this was only just the start. Over the next two days I met the whole group of travelers; a girl from Canada who travels by motorbike, a Moroccon woman who climbed six of the ‘seven summits’, a South African who traveled around the world by microlight, a man from Jemen who traveled across Africa by camel, a couple from Czech republic who’d gone around the world by passenger car, two surfers from France travelling to find remote waves, and several more. About 25 travelers in total. What a group! Never before was I part of such a varied group of travellers and got to spend a full week in their company.

The first afternoon two of the organizers came to greet us and take us to the centre of Dubai to see the world’s highest building, the Burj Khalifa, 828 meters high and 163 floors. Our hotel was 30km from the centre of the city and still in the city. We quickly realised that it was no use asking about plans, they were made on the spot. Who would speak on twhat day and time and what activities were planned we would hear about through whatsapp at some point every morning.

Two days after arrival the festival started. It looked great, with bedoein tents in a big park. Now, don’t imagine grass here, a park in Dubai means sand, a ‘sand park’. The were cushions to sit on, lots of tea and dates and a collage with pictures and routemaps of every traveler. There was a big stage where the presentations would take place. It was quite the spectacle with music, dancers, a fire and many traditionally dressed ‘Emiraties’. Men in white djellaba’s and women in black chadors, burkas and nikabs.
It all looked beautiful and the atmosphere was great, but by the number of chairs that stayed empty you could tell that they’d hoped and expected for more people to visit.

Film impression of the festival

Every day from 4 p.m. till abour 11 p.m. it was festival time and my fellow travelers and me gave presentations about our travels, people came up to talk to us and ask us questions and we had dinner together. During the day the organisers Awadh and Hesham took us to visit the spicemarket, old town, Dubai Safari. We spend a lot of time together in our private bus, driving long distances and getting stuck in traffic, but the great company made up for that.
I didn’t make it to the actual desert, the dunes, where I’d really hoped to go. But we did go to the beach with a few travelers on one of the free mornings. A place where I just can not imagine ever going again! There are no words…

‘CAN YOU HUG?’ I asked him suprised.

The ‘Emiraties‘, the traditionaly dressed men, where there aren’t too many from in this metropol, were interesting to meet. Their clothing is mainly cultural, from back in the days when they traveled across the desert by camel. The ‘rope’ on their heads is what they used to tie the camels up. You can’t tell by their clothing how conservative or liberal these men are. It happened a few times that I when I reached out to shake a mans hand, my gestured stayed unanswered. While another young man with whome I had a few nice conversations answered my playfully spread arms with a careful hug. ‘CAN YOU HUG?’ I asked him suprised. He explained to me to be quite liberal, but that it is looked down on by some others. When I came across him again later he said with a smile ‘I can’t hug now cause I’m on my way to prayer.’ The next day he shook my hand when I met him. ‘No more hugs? We’re back to shaking hands?’ I asked him. ‘Yes, cause my sister is right there, and she can’t see it.’ he answered.

Me, as a happy jumpy Bambi (cause that’s what I’m like when I’m excited) was amazed by the stiff, elegant, sophisticated way the Arabic men and women moved around. No skip, no laughing out loud, no runnen or dancing, nothing giving away their passion or joy and that they’ve been once like the kids that were running around and playing at the swings.
It happened a few times that me and some fellow travelers were dancing. When I looked up this whole group of locals was watching us with surprise in their eyes.
The atmosphere was great, very amicable, regardless of religion, culture or race.

The whole week there’d been the predication of rain for saturday night, sometime quite unique for Dubai. And when it did come down saturday evening everyone ran for shelter to the tents, some of them leaking, being made out of none waterproof fabric. The electricity was cut and when the rain stopped again they were already taking down the stage. I guess it isn’t a festival like the rock festivals I’ve visited in Holland; no dancing in the rain or sliding in the mud here. We finished the festival early and drove back to the hotel where the last few travelers did their presentations just for our select group in the conference room.

As I’m writing this I’m on the plane back to the Netherlands. Back to the cold. Like after every festival I’m still a little bit ‘high‘ on the atmosphere and all the impressions. When I used to return from camps as a kid, or in later years from festivals, the first few days I was hardly approachable by my mum, in my head I was still ‘there’.

It was quite an experience. I’m really glad I decided to go. Even though it was a lot of impressions and action, I did pretty well there. The main thing that will stay with me of this crazy, surprising and unexpected trip is the great atmosphere within the group of travelers. The ages varieing between 23 and 68 and all the different nationalities. I have no doubt that I’ll meet several of them again, somewhere around the world.

It was a dive into the deep, especially considering the difficult weeks I’d had prior to the festival. But I’m glad I took the plunge again! Turns out there’s not just a beautiful view at the end of a long climb.
But also a dive into the deep can get you to the prettiest sights.

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