Recently I have found myself going through my blog and re-working my ‘about’ page and general blog structure. It occurred to me that my travel diaries only start in 2012. But I have some crazy travel experiences to share that pre-date this.
Therefore I decided to publish a mini-series on some of the most ridiculous highlights of my travels pre-2012. Just because I was living at home back then doesn’t mean they don’t make great stories. So sit back and enjoy!
We’re going to kick-off this series with a trip to Dubai to celebrate the New Year 2007.
You’ll have to excuse the fact that the only images in this post are of cats and a Hummer. Cats and Hummers were clearly the only thing that interested me back in 2007 as a 12-year-old.
I panted as I raced through the airport terminal, the weight of my hand-luggage baring me down. How much further? I wondered despairingly. Beside me, the rest of my family were also pelting through Heathrow airport as we desperately raced to reach our connection.
Outside the terminal windows, faintly visible behind the bright reflection of the gleaming airport, I could see the dark sky as evening set in.
We were gradually nearing the end of the terminal where our plane was boarding for Dubai. A woman stood at the now-empty gate. Had we made it in time?
We skidded to a halt and I took a moment to catch my breath as my parents spoke to the gate staff.
“We are closing the gate.” The woman announced.
I stared, horrified. Did this mean we were too late?
It wasn’t our fault that we had barely made it to the gate. Our initial flight from Manchester to London Heathrow had been slightly delayed which ate up precious layover time. We’d spent the entire duration racing of our layover through the huge airport.
I could hear my parents putting their plight forward and watched the woman’s stony face as she listened.
“OK.” She nodded. “Boarding passes please.”
I let out a sigh of relief. We were going to Dubai!
I had been to Dubai before. Many times actually.
In 2004 I had been fortunate enough to take-part in a desert adventure which involved quad biking, dune bashing in a crazy buggy which raced up and down dunes, tackling the dunes at a calmer pace in a Land Cruiser, camel riding in the dark and finally belly-dancing.
It had been an incredible experience, made all the more comical when one of our 4x4s got stuck at the top of one of the dunes at it took hours to pull them out!
Back in 2004 Dubai was not crazily developed and tourism was less. My family and our friends were the only group on this tour which made it personal and we truly did feel alone in the middle of the desert.
Back then, the palm islands were under construction and the huge Berj Khalifa didn’t exist. In fact, construction of the Berj Khalifa had just started in 2004.
But back to the story.
We were grouchy and tired as we huddled by the luggage belt in Dubai International Airport. We’d been staring at this belt for what felt like hours and the number of bags spinning round was gradually decreasing as more and more passengers from our flight collected their belongings.
Where were our bags?
Beside me, my parents were bickering. Their words seemed to get ever-louder until I realised that they were merely no longer drowned out behind the buzz of a crowd of people. We were the only family left beside the luggage belt.
Suddenly the belt juddered to a halt and silence filled my ears.
It was clear in that moment – our luggage wasn’t coming.
My parents reported to the customer service desk whilst I sat beside my siblings. These were the days before I learnt of the benefits of packing some spare clothes in my hand-luggage and so the only clothes I had on me where the clothes I wore now – a thick, black Juicy tracksuit (‘cause I’m cool like that) and likely Ugg boots. Ideal for the 45 degree temperatures of Dubai. Oh, and then there was the underwear issue. I cringed in disgust.
Fortunately British Airways had a little kit of essentials and we were given one each. Inside the kit was a toothbrush, toothpaste and a T-shirt. But no underwear?!
Turns out our luggage hadn’t made the short connection from Heathrow to Dubai which isn’t all that surprising considering we barely made the connection.
We were now in Dubai for a week and there was no telling when our luggage would finally show up.
In my head I went over the underwear situation. OK, so first I could wear them inside out and then maybe I’d have to go commando. The glaringly obvious solution would have been to hand-wash them but for some reason this was too far outside of my brain’s understanding at this point.
I stood on our hotel’s rooftop beside the pool, the scorching 45 degree sun beating down on me. Within my tracksuit, I was melting. I needed some cooler clothes and fast.
Fortunately, today we were heading to the Mall of the Emirates, a huge and extravagant shopping centre which had recently opened an indoor skiing facility. It was the perfect place to purchase some clothes as well as have a fun experience.
Except I hate shopping.
As predicted, after only a couple of hours, I was overheated and overwhelmed, trudging after the rest of my family whilst being laden with bags.
At least we’d purchased some underwear. That thought alone was enough to keep me smiling, especially when I’d actually opted for going commando under my tracksuit – yep, seriously.
It was time for a break so I collapsed onto a wooden bench in the centre of the mall and allowed the bags to sit surrounding my feet.
Being in a huge mall was not quite how I’d envisioned my time in Dubai but still, things could be worse.
The time had come to leave so I scooped up as many bags as I could carry and off we went to find a taxi.
I sat in our hotel room, rummaging through the bags of newly purchased clothes. With an array of T-shirts and shorts, I wouldn’t have to overheat in my tracksuit anymore! Now where was my brand new underwear?
I looked through bag after bag after bag but couldn’t find my underwear bag. That’s odd. We definitely bought some.
I looked through them again and again, emptying their contents on the floor.
Oh my god. Where was my underwear?
I began to panic, scanning everything we had bought one final time. It was hopeless. Searching through them again wouldn’t magically make them appear. They were not here. At some point they had become lost.
My mind wandered back to the moment I sat on the bench and dropped all the bags on the floor. When I’d stood up to leave, had I checked to make sure I had everything?
Oh. My. God. I must have stupidly left my own underwear bag by the bench. I officially had no underwear and it was all my own fault. All those brand new pairs of underwear were now lost forever.
Fortunately, the trip was not a total disaster. For starters, my mum kindly said I could borrow some of her new underwear so at least I didn’t have to go commando forever.
But the ultimate highlight of my time in Dubai was both entirely unexpected and unbelievably weird.
Some of our friends had moved to Dubai several years ago and every time we travelled to the city, we always paid them a visit. This trip was no exception.
In the sandy suburbs outside bustling Dubai was a neat complex of bungalows. Our taxi pulled-up outside their house and we entered. My parents were delighted to see their long-time friends and they had two children who were a similar age to me and my siblings. But the ultimate excitement was the fact that the family had recently adopted a cat off the street called Mogs.
Mogs was a petite female tortoiseshell and I fell in love with her immediately.
It’s no secret that I love cats. I had a crazy obsession back in primary school and I mean crazy.
I was obsessed with buying everything and anything which had a cat on and at one point I printed off a tonne of cat photos from the internet and completely covered my walls with them.
I got screamed at by my year 5 teacher for using the school printer to scan and print off every single page of every single book in their library which had a cat on it. It was even worse because my entire class loved the idea and had also started photocopying anything they liked in the library books. It was madness! Black and white print-outs covered the library floor and the printer went through a shit tonne of ink.
Fortunately, I was not a weird lonely child who did this. My best friend at the time was just as odd as I was and we encouraged each other in our joint-obsession.
It even got competitive. I remember once I asked her where she had purchased a notebook from which had a photo of a cat on the front and she lied about it so I couldn’t purchase it! No worries, I found it on my own.
Anyway, as of late-2006 I had recovered slightly from my addiction. I was calmer. I was more normal. I had finished my time at cataholics anonymous. But the fire I had been trying to hard to suppress was about to get well and truly reignited.
Lucy, one of the children who was the roughly same age as my sister, started telling me and my sister all about Mogs. Mogs was a stray who had been lingering around their house for a while and so they made the decision to adopt her. It was a cute story.
“Are there many stray cats around here?” I asked.
“Oh, loads!” Lucy beamed. “I can show you them if you like.”
My eyes lit up at once. I had never heard such a brilliant idea before.
Before I knew it, Lucy, my sister and I were wandering around the complex in search of cats. It didn’t take us long to find them. They were everywhere and it was just as amazing as I hoped. In fact, it was better than I could have hoped.
Lucy seemed to know every single cat we encountered. She reeled off the names she had given them. Either that or she was very good at coming up with names on the spot.
I was mesmerised. Part of the appeal was just wandering around freely and trying to spot the cats. It made me feel like I was in a nature documentary but instead of journeying round the savannahs of Africa looking for lions I was walking past bungalows in Dubai looking for cats.
We were out all afternoon, taking photos of cats and relaxing under the warmth of the sun. It was quiet and peaceful.
But then something unexpected happened.
I was wandering round the side of a communal building where there was a tennis court attached. Just then I noticed something unusual sticking out of the bushes. I bent down to take a look.
“You guys!” I called. “You gotta come and see this.”
The three of us stared in a mixture of amazement and horror as we took in the mangled animal jaw that lay in front of us. It was fragmented. Only one side of the jaw was visible but its teeth were all intact. It had long canines and a few smaller teeth behind. My initial thought was that it must have been a cat’s jaw. What other animal was a similar size and had canines?
I could have squealed with excitement. It was turning more and more like a nature documentary by the moment except it was real and I was living it.
I made it my mission to learn as much as possible as I could about this jaw. Who did it belong to? What happened to them? I wanted to be a detective and uncover the mystery.
I also wanted to keep the jaw. With no regard for hygiene I picked it up and we took it back to the house for a lovely little clean up.
Despite spending the whole afternoon patrolling the complex, I never did find out what happened to the animal or find any other clues.
But just discovering this grizzly artefact made me so much more fascinated with the cats we passed. Some looked rough and had scars. Did they fight amongst themselves? Was this a true cat colony?
Honestly, I had never felt so alive.
Sadly as evening came, I had to say goodbye to Lucy who had promised to look after the cat jaw until I returned later in the week. Except it wasn’t there for me to collect when I next returned. I was disappointed to discover her mum had discarded it.
Of course she was going to discard part of a dirty animal carcass.
Still. I was devastated. I was been longing to bring the skeletal remains home with me.
I’d loved to have seen the face of the people on customs as they watched my bag go through the X-ray with part of an animal carcass in there.
Our time in Dubai was coming to a close. We had a few more nights left in the city and one of these was the highly-anticipated New Year’s Eve. It was time to wave goodbye to 2006 and welcome in the new year.
Except no one had booked anything. A terrible oversight. A few days before New Year’s Eve my parents spent hours ringing every restaurant they could think of to try and book us somewhere to celebrate. Everywhere was booked up.
That was, everywhere except the glorious T.G.I Friday’s.
But we’re snazzy people. None of us had ever eaten at a place like T.G.I’s and we weren’t keen to change that now, especially on New Year’s Eve.
Well, we didn’t have a choice.
We rocked-up at T.G.I’s for the strangest New Year we had had. Our food portions were larger than our heads, including the dessert. Oh, the dessert. It was called ‘Oreo Madness’ and my goodness, it was madness. There was just so much of it!
As we sat eating in the dimly lit room, yelling so we could be heard over the blaring music, my sister complained that she wasn’t feeling well. In fact, her skin had come out in uncomfortable large red spots.
My parents exchanged a worried glance. We’d all been waiting for the day when this happened. My sister had gone through a whole 8 years without getting the dreaded Chicken Pox. Yep, she caught Chicken Pox in Dubai. What a way to see in 2007.