Finding enlightenment in a wretched hive of decadence.
Some people go off to Bali to find themselves, whilst others take a spiritual pilgrimage to India seeking enlightenment. Some hide themselves away and take on a hermit-like existence in the wilds, only revealing themselves to society when Ben Fogle arrives armed with a camera crew and a week’s supply of Kendal mint cake.
But not me. I didn’t find myself humming mantras whilst irrigating my own colon in a straw hut. No. I like to do things differently. I found enlightenment in a wretched hive of decadence; Dubai.
Feeling the need to get away and have some much needed R&R over Christmas, I decided to take up the offer of ex-pat friends to spend New Year with them in the Dubai desert. "It will be fun, burd,” she said. “We'll load up the car with booze and see the new year in under the stars.” So, packing my pink bikini and Uggs, I jetted off to the sweltering sandpit with no expectations and an iPod full of anti-anxiety techniques to talk me through the flight (I hate crowds, queues and confined spaces - all of which are rather irksomely involved in travelling!)
I arrived in Dubai at 2am, sprinting through arrivals with my bright yellow case and into the arms of my friend’s husband who then drove us through the thick, humid fog that had been blighting the city all week. Hazard lights flashed on the highway, giant, almost Orwellian silhouettes of cranes rose up from all around, and every atom in my body vibrated with excitement. My adventure had begun.
By the time we arrived at the apartment I was like a kid after a family pack of Skittles washed down with a triple expresso. By 5am the three of us had consumed 3 bottles of wine and
I was sent to bed with a packet of antihistamines for my cat allergy and a bag of Haribo gummy bears in case I got hungry. Four hours later I was woken up to go on the booze run across 3 Emirates to buy the New Year's alcohol quota, pulling over along the highway with our contraband in the boot just so as I could take photos of camels in the distance. By that evening, less than 24 hours after landing in Dubai, I was pissed on frozen Margaritas and drunkenly dancing for the security cameras outside my friends' apartment.
I was loving Dubai!
We spent New Year’s Eve camped in the desert, drinking mojitos and rolling down sand dunes under the stars and a sliver of the waxing crescent moon. New friendships were made and old friendships were sealed doing 'snow angels' in the sand around the camp fire to the strains of Snow Patrol booming out across the still desert night. I only know about the Snow Patrol thing because I found the video footage we had taken on my phone and unsuccessfully tried to ‘FB Live’ in our inebriated state. Dear God, i'm a 45 year old professional woman - will I never learn? Hope not!
The rest of my stay passed all too quickly in a vibrant frenzy of cocktails, chat and laughter; much, much laughter - and yes, it’s a miracle I wasn’t the cause of a diplomatic incident. We drank sundowners at the Hilton Sky Bar, danced along with the fountains at the Burj Khalifa, and lay around the apartment talking and laughing until dawn.
Dubai was hot and dusty, loud and chaotic. The call to prayer rang out across frenetic city streets, bouncing off the vertiginous buildings of this still relatively foetal city, where obscene wealth and devout religion live side by side. My senses were assaulted from the moment I landed, and I loved every minute of it. I wasn't bogged down by the day to day baggage of my everyday life, and I was free to be me again. The 'me' I was before kids and mortgages and general life dulled my vibrancy. Sometimes, you just really need to get away and find that part of yourself again, and sometimes you find that part of yourself where you least expect to find it.
In the insightful, although somewhat rum-addled words of my friend on a cab ride home after one debaucherously fun-filled night: “It’s not about the cocktails you drink. That’s insignificant. It’s about the people you’re with; friends.
Friends, friends, friends.
And I can’t say anything more deep than that. Hic!”