From Burj Al Arab to Al Maha desort resort...two worlds in less than two hours
DUBAI - What a difference 120 minutes make. One minute, I'm standing in the Burj Al Arab tower on the waterfront of Dubai, the sail-like, billowing tower that features a restaurant surrounded by
a giant aquarium with a tiger shark and manta rays. A few minutes later, I'm bouncing down a dirt road looking out a huge, white Arabian Oryx cooling itself in the shade of a small tree in the middle of a rolling series of Dubai sand dunes.
The morning was spectacular here. I woke up about 6 a.m. and made a quick dash for the beach in front of the Madinat Jumeirah complex, where I was staying (my hotel s the Mina Salam; one of three on the grounds). The light was wonderful; a mix of indigo and orange and grey, and the light kept subtly changing as I walked up and down a beach that was surprisingly deserted. In half an hour on a perfect morning, there was only one other tourist in sight. Maybe all the young folks were up partying late and drinking pina coladas at Trader Vic's bar, which was packed to the proverbial rafters when I went by at 9:30 p.m.
Anyway, it was absolutely a wonderful morning to be on the beach, not to mention breakfast. I've seen plenty of great buffets before, but nothing to match the Mina Salam. I'm leaving three-quarters of the offerings, and that's not a joke, but here are a few of the foods they had: make your own omelettes, baked tomatoes, four types of croissants, vanilla honey, lavender honey, cinnamon honey, hummus, eggplant jam, arabic bread, bacon, chicken sausage, waffles, pancakes, bircher muesli, an Indian station that had paratha, coconut chutney and lots more, a salad bar, miso soup, a cheese platter, figs, dates, banana compote, pineapple compote, pear compote, strawberry chutney, pear chutney, baguettes, a granola station and five kinds of juice. Phew. I wish I was there another day just to sample more. I didn't spot any Captain Crunch or Slovenian sheep cheese, but I bet they'd get it for you if you asked.
The Al Qasr hotel on the same property is even more sumptuous, with lovely rooms and a lush lobby. THey also have a series of villas, some of them right along the beach, not to mention their own souk (market) with lots of stuff for tourists and a kids' club, not to mention two large pools. All in all, an extraordinary resort.
For something competely different, you can check in at Al Maha Resort and Spa, about 45 minutes from the city. It's an area filled with rolling sand dunes, not to mention long-horned Arabian oryx and small/friendly gazelles. It's a lovely, small resort that features tent-like structures scattered among the vegetation and dunes, with full service in a very rustic - and remote - atmosphere. It's won several awards over the years and it's easy to see why, with its seemingly minimal influence on the natural environment.
Among other things, they offer nature walks and late afternoon camel treks. Some folks opt for tours of the desert in four by four's, which I think is rather appalling. But that's just me. Anyway, you have to wait for the camel guy to get his animal to kneel down on all fours, then you swing onto its back and lean backwards while he clambers up. Once you're on, it's pretty steady, although the legs spread wide thing takes some getting used to.
The colours were magnificent around sunset, and they topped it off with some sparkling wine. For the customers, not the camels. Shazhab, one of the camel experts, said some folks at Al Maha prefer horseback riding, which also is offered. But the horses tend to go pretty fast, he said, and you can't ride with
one hand or no hands the way he can on a camel.
Great fun, followed by a lovely dinner out on the terrace, which was lit by tiki torches and a blanket of stars. Good view of the Milky Way and more on a perfect night in the Dubai desert. I was going to walk up from my unit but they'd told me to be careful of the wild oryx's on site, and there was one not far from my place as I headed up, so I wisely (I think) turned around and called for a golf cart. Chicken perhaps, but check out the size of those horns. If an oryx was in a grumpy mood, they could do serious damage.