Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Al Dhafra Camel Festival

December 23
Another really incredible thing we did while on break was head to the Al Dhafra Camel Festival. This is a huge festival held every year in what is called the Western Region of the Emirate, basically the area in the west that is less built up. The festival lasts for a week and consists of camel and dog races, falcon competitions, a beautiful camel contest, souqs, food, and more. It took us about three hours to drive out, and we decided to go on a Sunday so that it would be less crowded (Sunday is a weekday here). When we arrived we felt a bit lost. It was huge, and spread out over a lot of the desert. Luckily, a nice guy (George) saw us wandering around and took us under his wing. He was from Italy, but worked in Abu Dhabi and was asked to help with the tourist at the festival. He told us he was heading to lunch and so we hopped in his car to tag along. George was staying at one of the camps set up in the desert and took us over the the camp tents for lunch. We were invited into the tent, after taking off our shoes, and sat around a huge spread of food. I felt a little invasive at first because there were all men, but they all made us feel welcome. It was a traditional Emirati spread with rice, goat, fish, and salad. We all ate with our hands, and enjoyed being a part of the culture. 



 After lunch we were brought to another tent for coffee and tea, as other men sat smoking shisha. We enjoyed some conversation as the men told me to drink camel milk for the baby, and then it was time to go see some camels. The day before had been the big races, but there were beautiful camel competitions everyday. George took us over to the camels that were part of the competition for the day, and we got to walk around their pens. We learned about how they are judged and even got to pet some of them. They were curious about us and would rub their lips on our hands. There were also some baby camels with their mothers, including one that was only 2 days old. They reminded me of an ostrich with their long necks and big heads.

2 days old

 After seeing the camels it was time to announce the winner for the day. Once they do this, the camels are paraded by the grandstand while a group of men dance. At first we were standing on the side, but the camels were running by and some were kicking, which made everyone nervous with me being so close. It was nice the way the men wanted to protect me. George brought us up to the VIP section and we watched the parades of camels from there, receiving water from the workers. We learned about the prizes the competitors receive. There are different groups of camels each day, and then an overall winner on the last day. Most of the prizes are a million dirhams... about $272,250. This is donated back to the festival, as the people have already invested so much money in the camels they don't think this is much. The winning camel can be sold for around 5 million dirhams, or $1,361,250. There were also 198 new SUVs to be handed out. We tried to ask if we could get one for visiting.... haha.

The winner

 After seeing the winners of the beautiful camels, George took us out to the road where they sell camels. Hundreds of people and camels lined the road, and people drove by looking out their windows and getting out to see the stock. There was this one massive male camel who towered over his handler. He was crazy big!!! We also learned that camels are quite an investment. We saw some camels and then were off for another adventure, to see the racing camels.


 George took us to a different part of the camps where they train the racing camels, and we learned about the differences between how they are raised and trained. After awhile it was time to leave as we had a three hour car ride home. We said goodbye and thank you to George and headed out. It was an amazing experience and I am so glad we made the drive out there! 

Racing camels on their way back to camp


Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Break

One of the many blessings of living out here in the sandbox is the fact that there is a three week break off of school during the winter. This couldn't come at a better time as I entered my last month of pregnancy and can enjoy rest and time spent with Shawn. Shawn also finished up his semester of school (in which he did very well and I am very proud of him), so we both have this time to enjoy each other without a schedule. Although we have taken this time to rest and get the house ready for baby, we also have been “tourist,” doing the things around where we live that we haven't had a chance to do. It also helps that the weather is perfect, in the 70's! Here are a few of the things we have done so far... but there is more to come :)

Dubai/Global Village: (December 16th)
Towards the beginning of break, one of Shawn's mom's friends happened to be in Duabi on a trip, so we had the opportunity to visit her. We have been doing some airport runs, taking people to the airport for their winter trips and making some extra money, and so were already headed that way in the morning. We met her at her hotel and had a lovely big breakfast. We were then going to bring her to the old souqs, but it was Friday and amazingly it started to rain. We then thought about bringing her to the mall, but decided that was too touristy. Instead, we decided to bring her back to Al Ain. Her tour group was going to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so we thought it would be nice to show her another place that was less of a tourist trap and a little more cultural. After swinging by the flat, we drove out to the mountain here and then took her to lunch at one of our favorite local places. It was a beautiful day with great views from the mountain. We even ate outside on the patio for lunch. We had to bring her back to her hotel after lunch because her group was going on a desert safari, so we headed to a place called Global Village in Dubai afterwards. It is a little like Epcot, in that it represents places around the world, just on a much smaller scale. You walk through different “shops” around the world filled with gifts and food. Some places were really well done, such as Africa. That section had beautiful handcrafted things from Africa as well as people working there from different countries such as Kenya. Other places were not as impressive, selling clothing that could be from anywhere in the world and nothing specific to thar country. There was also a part with rides, like the fair, but I didn't ride any (I wonder why not!). We had fun walking around, but were also tired after a long (but fun) day so headed home to bed!

Visiting with a friend

Global Village 
The Zoo: (December 20th)
Not far down the road from our flat is the Al Ain Zoo, so another day over break we made our way there. It was another lovely day with clear skies, and he headed out early to get started. I must say I was impressed by the zoo. It is very large, and the animals have good enclosures, not small cages. There were many desert animals, some of which I had never seen before, as well as familiar animals such as lions and tigers. There was a family in front of us that was frustrating though. The father, a local, started throwing rocks into some of the animal cages to get them to move, such as the tiger that was lying in the shade. It made me so mad, eventually we just had to go a different way so I would be near the family anymore. Another nice things about the zoo were the prices. Back home, tourist places are always outrageous. You may spend $10 on a hotdog for lunch. At this zoo, all the food and drinks were reasonably priced. We were able to eat a nice lunch outside for a very decent price. I even got a slushie :). Some of our favorite animals were the monkeys and the penguins. The penguins were putting on a show, swimming and jumping everywhere! We definitely will be bringing baby Casey there! After the zoo we were going to go see The Life of Pi at the movies, but we had a little bump in the road. We had about an hour, so we decided to head home before the movie. Shawn has been having trouble with his teeth, so when we went home he decided to clean them out before we left. While cleaning, he hit an exposed nerve and was in so much pain I thought he wouldn't even make it to the doctor. He was able to drive, and was injected with Novocaine and a shot in his bottom when we got there! They scheduled him for a root canal a few days later, and soon we were back on track and off to the movie. We both had read the book, and thought the movie was well done. Even with a little bump in the road, it was a great day!

They have camel rides at the zoo! 

Fun penguins

Shawn made a friend
 Jebel Hafeet: (December 30th)
Jebel is part of a mountain range in the UAE, and is the highest mountain in that range. It is not huge compared to other mountains around the world, but to see it rise up in the desert is pretty impressive. The road leading up to the top of the mountain is considered one of the top ten drives in the world, as it winds up in horseshoe turns. We took one morning to drive to the top and take in the views. They are quite stunning. After the drive, we headed to the bottom of the mountain to a place called the Green Mubazzarah. This is a beautiful green park nestled right at the base of the mountains, and includes a natural hot spring. We drove around taking in the sites before stopping to dip our feet in the spring water. I knew they were called hot springs, but I wasn't prepared for how warm the water actually was. After the dip, we found a beautiful shady spot for our picnic and enjoyed a meal together. Again, it was a beautiful day with no clouds, and I almost fell asleep for a nap on our blanket. Can't wait to take little man there for a family picnic soon!
On top of the mountain

Picnic time

Hot springs

Our picnic spot

 Out and About:
We also have used our time to just do small things out and about. We went to see The Hobbit in theaters as well as spent a day shopping for baby at the mall. We spent one day taking a walk at a park near our home and ran into our friends while there. This ended with a nice snack at Starbucks together after our walk. We have eaten out a few times and even ordered in... and we have more fun things planned. We will of course be going to see Les Miserables (the movie) when it comes out here in a few days and we have another trip planned for Dubai to see the indoor ski resort. There are a few museums and parks we want to check out here, and of course more rest before our big adventure!
Starbucks with friends

Walk in the park

Shopping for baby

Walk in the park