Abu Dhabi to Dubai
On my way
I stepped out of Abu Dhabi airport in the dark, still trying to crack my eyes open after a sweaty 3 hours’ worth of sleep on the plane. It was a short night but no complaints about the Etihad service, or the four seats I had to stretch my admittedly short length across.
My bag and bike box made it through unscathed so pulling one and pushing the other, I confidently followed the signs to the Etihad shuttle bus which would take me to Dubai, and within 30 seconds found myself stranded in the middle of a dark parking lot full of Dodge monsters and low slung limos. The average horse power must have been over 300. Random coaches were parked around the outside, but all were very clearly out of action for the time being. I stopped and looked around like an idiot for a bit, quickly joined by two bike box wielding Italians who had clearly followed my Ironman rucksack. After a bit of head nodding and embarrassed smiling we agreed we weren’t in the right place – no shit Sherlock – and I gathered from them that the first bus, wherever it was, wasn’t leaving until 7.30 anyway. It was 6.25; back to arrivals. I handed over my Visa card for a latte at Illy’s and wondered how much I’d paid for it. Still a little woozy to do the math.
My second attempt at leaving the airport was much more successful. I’m now sitting on a bus to Dubai, fully awake and trying not to worry too much about the race coming up. Looking around me and enjoying being in a totally new place is about the only distraction I have.
My first instinctive shock, as usual when stepping out of Switzerland, is how big the outside world is. Buildings, roads, cars… everything is on a totally different scale to the average farm and three cows in the middle of a field. I’m always reminded how much of a country bumpkin I am when faced with four lanes or twenty storeys: measures which are to a lot of people totally normal, seem to me often immense and awe-inspiring.
Second observation is how multicultural my entourage is. Arab, European, Indian, Asian; veils, robes, jeans, shirts, turbans, runners, sandals, hair, beards, burquas… There’s a serious mix of religions, languages and attire around me, and no one seems to be picking fights. It’s very civilised, very relaxed, and very refreshing.
Fellow passengers checked out, I turn my head back to the window, because that’s where it’s all happening. Cranes. As far as the eye can see. It seems the desert has been transformed into one large building site. Half of which looks to be financed by Etihad Airways, but that’s beside the point. Street lamps by the hundreds, palm trees by the thousands and the odd mosque or ten. Enormous structures at various stages of erection dotted about the desert landsape. Space and money are clearly no issue here. There is a city growing out of the sand fast enough for it to be seen by the naked eye, and again I realise that living in a place where it takes months to get planning permission to erect a measly family villa, I have no idea how the world is evolving. Racing pushes me out of my comfort zone, but if I take the time to look around for even a minute, so do the places I travel to. It’s a little disturbing; I’m way too comfortable riding my bike through green fields in a naive little bubble.
My 35-seater is bumbling along slowly in the second of five lanes on Sheik Zayed road. Traffic is continuous but fluid, and there is not a Fiat Panda or a Renault Twingo in sight. Almost every single vehicle has dark tinted windows and an aura of stealth; it feels a little like I’m in some blockbuster and the US president or the head of the local mafia could be in every other car.
The only intriguing contrast to the flashing of motorised money seem to be a few local buses which wouldn’t look out of place in Forrest Gump. I briefly wonder how they landed in this ultra-modern metropolis.
We’re approximately halfway into the 1h30 journey and clearly in the middle of the desert between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Yet construction is still blooming and men in what looks like orange radioactive wear are busy laying pipes along the motorway. I remember they’re probably just trying not to get burned in the sun. We drive past Daimler HQ, a Carrefour supermarket and an exit for a camel race track. Below a Vegas-style sign for a water funpark I can make out a petrol plant in the hazy distance. Another sign is advertising for motor oil with a slogan that reads “the thinner, the better”. Try getting that approved anywhere else.
Then suddenly we go from five to eight lanes and seem to drive through the refinery before bursting out the other side into a sea of skyscrapers and more construction work. Looks like we’ve hit Dubai. I feel a bit like ET landing on Earth. But I made it here. Find my bike, get myself to the hotel, and down about a litre of coffee – not necessarily in that order – are next on the list.