Pass the Sheesha to the Left Hand Side

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A creamy lump of hummus and olive oil, a silver pot of Moroccan mint tea, and a fat hookah packed with sweet apple tobacco–this was how we ended our first and only night in the city of Dubai. At a breezy table on the bank of Dubai Creek (actually a wide river that snakes through the city), we listened to tinny Arabian music, watched Oriental-shaped boats go by, and snuck pieces of pita to half a dozen emaciated cats.

And we sipped, snacked, and smoked the sheesh.

This is the city that a handful of billionaire sheiks built, and everything about it speaks of even more growth. Hordes of Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and others are arriving in the United Arab Emirates to fill the labor demand; a disgruntled Brit we met near the bus station, who is here to open a “Euro Cafe,” says that only 3 percent of the city’s 1.8 million people are native to the area. The airport, already enormous, is quadrupling in size, a vast mass of cranes and building skeletons; the development along Jameira Beach, it is said, will be the size of Manhattan within a couple of years.

Although a lot of the growth is fueled by business, banking, and trade, tourism is fast on the rise, although not for budget travelers. The info desk at the airport refused to speak to us about any accommodations with less than three stars, so we relied on a couple of travel forum tips and our taxi driver.

But, traveling bareback without a guidebook can be a fun and challenging experience; it forces you to interact with the people around you and to keep the night open to new experiences–like hittin’ the hookah on the banks of Dubai Creek.

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See you on the other side of the Gulf…

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