India 2015: Rest Stop in Abu Dhabi

By Danny Care / On / In Travel, Volunteering

I’ve finally gotten around to writing my journal, a month in! Really enjoying everything so far and I have only just found time on a sick day to sit down and reflect on everything so far.

We arrived in Chennai at night as the hot air blew you away. After being delayed in Abu Dhabi overnight due to a missed connection we arrived later than expected. Fortunately, Ethiad looked after us the whole way, giving us all free accommodation due to a delayed flight leaving London. It was me and Naomi that paired up for a room.

I soon realised that I had nothing to change into. Shit. See, our hold luggage was stuck in limbo and in blind faith I packed my rucksack with stupid pass-times including two pairs of headphones, a hoodie, a beanie, a pack of murray mints, a copy of Siddhartha and The Dharma Bums because I definitely thought I’d read two books in twelve hours. Not to mention my rucksack was tiny. All I had with me was all I was wearing – some black Levi’s, a navy blue undershirt and a plaid flannel shirt, which just so happened to be the thickest, warmest item of clothing I owned. What a fool.

We sat up late, joking and watching Arab television and still in disbelief that we were in Abu Dhabi. By this time, the travel and time zone change brought us to 4am. We both tossed and turned, it was too damn hot, even with the thermostat on low.

After about 2 hours sleep, we both rose and got ready. Breakfast was on our minds. Although the room was warm, everywhere else within the hotel and airport flowed cool refreshing air. Almost too cool. As we walked into the massive dining hall, we were greeted by a very friendly hostess who took our hot drinks orders.

The breakfast was self-serve and thank God it was. I was starving. There were endless amounts of food. Sausages, bacon, eggs, oh the eggs – boiled, scrambled, poached, you name it. Tomatoes grilled to perfection and a plethora of various freshly squeezed fruit juices. Excessive isn’t enough over here. I tucked into my plate, loaded with bacon, eggs, tomatoes and four different cheeses, of which the only one I recognised with tired eyes was swiss. Bliss.

It was about now we began to notice that nobody else we were with was awake. We had woken up early, too early. We decided to make the most of our delay and head out into Abu Dhabi with three hours to spare. We hailed a cab in the unbearable dry heat and asked to be taken to Yas Mall, one of the largest malls in Abu Dhabi according to the leaflet we found in the hotel foyer. Which was great because I needed another bag, and maybe some more bearable clothing. The cab driver, an honest looking man in his 40’s turned to us and said “Yas Mall, no open for 1 hour. I’ll take you to the Mosque.” Without a second of hesitation and with an elated smile, we agreed.

Abu Dhabi is a weird place. Imagine the wide, vast and meticulously organised highways of modern day America, in the middle of the Arab desert, coupled with construction sites on either side of the road, fabricating tall shining towers, and old, worn out buildings from yesteryear alongside them. This place is colossal, and yet so empty. Empty of any soul, empty of people, heck there were hardly any cars on the four lane roads at all.

We arrived at Sheikh Zayed Mosque after a short 15 minutes of driving through desert highways. The freezing air conditioning in the car was great, but once we got outside we were shunned by a huge blast of dry, stagnant desert heat. It took your breath away. The air felt boiling from my nose to my lungs and dried out the back of my throat.

This mosque was quite honestly the biggest religious building I’ve seen. The scale of this place was ginormous. Pools surrounded the temple inside and permanent marble awnings provided shade from the early morning heat which was easily thirty five degrees.

After taking our shoes off and a brief walk on the flame hot lava marble we entered the main building of the mosque and blasted yet again with ice cold air. This place is a combination of extremes. My god though, this was the most beautiful building I’d ever been in. Chandeliers bigger than my bedroom at home hung from the ceiling and were so intricately detailed it made any church I’ve seen look like a crack house.

Hand carvings painted on the marble pillars were so mesmerising that the small detail in itself could capture you, and the colours were immense and vibrant. Reds, greens and ambers complemented the gold and pearl housings.

Amongst this parade of wealth and power, somewhere in the vacant vicinity was a touch of spiritualism. Although I kept asking myself – What God would want us to do this? How vain must he be?

We were on the road again, to the mall. This was about 30 minutes away and past the airport we had come from. On the way, we saw Ferrari World, which apparently has a roller coaster among other theme park rides. I have no idea but it looked pretty cool.

Arriving at Yas Mall, we had to walk for at least five minutes within the shopping centre before actually getting to any shops. There was barely anyone in sight. We stopped at a sports shop to maybe look for a new bag and some shorts. A GoPro camera caught my eye, walking up to it and picking it up was a bad choice – All of a sudden out of nowhere I had at least ten sales assistants surrounding me, waiting. The prices were the same as back home, which was crazy considering the exchange rate. The shop was so empty and pristine that none of the employees actually had anything to do. Me and Naomi awkwardly walked away, not wanting to be pestered.

Western brands sprawled across either side of the seemingly endless lanes that split off into equally as infinite second lanes. In fact, the only way to actually know where you were is by using shops as place markers. ‘Take a left at Starbucks, keep going and turn left at the Nike superstore, if you see McDonalds and Topshop you’ve gone too far.’

Quite honestly, the mall was sorely disappointing. There was no difference to any shopping centre back in the UK apart from the grandeur and fact there were about 5 other shoppers in the entire mall the time we were there. Really creepy when there are more sales assistants than customers.

The whole place was just too ‘correct’ for lack of a better word. It ticked all the boxes of the capitalist western life. This felt like a multi millionaire’s playground, and because we are certainly not multi millionaires we got bored very quickly and I think we both secretly regretted our decision. But covered it up by having a discussion about the two completely different sides of Abu Dhabi. The beauty, the religion, the inherited culture juxtaposed the completely devoid soul of westernised capitalism, that somehow merge together to form this spooky blob in the middle of the desert.

We wanted to stay longer, however our flight was due to leave and we figured everybody would be awake and ready now.