As long as you are in Kruger, there is hope

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As long as you are in Kruger, there is hope. That’s a phrase our driver in Kruger always said. Hope for what? Probably to see some of the more special animals. Because we saw EVERYTHING. Buffalos, giraffes, elephants, birds, hippos,… We saw everything BUT the big cats. We started to think that they were on strike. But as long as you are in Kruger, there is hope.

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We realized that our Vic Falls to Johannesburg tour with Nomads was over, when everybody was saying goodbye and we had to organize a taxi for ourselves to get to the hostel. The high prices made us wish that we could hop back on our tour truck.

Finally, we arrived at the Sleek hostel, which was quite cool but clearly, they were not prepared for winter. The rooms were freezing!!! At least the shower was hot. Since it wasn’t advisable to walk outside as females after dark, we ordered some pizzas with help from the guy at the reception. At least an hour later, they finally arrived cold but you know; this is Africa.

Luckily, we survived the cold night and tried to organize an Uber to the mall in Sandton the next day. Unfortunately, the app just didn’t work for us and so we had the choice of being ripped off by another taxi driver or take a minibus cab from the nearby taxi rank. We opted for the later, as it was only R11 and should be safe in the bright daylight. So, 10min later, we were on our way to the mall in a car full of black people.

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Sandton City reminded me of Las Vegas with lots of big buildings, where all the life is going on inside. We spent the day shopping for clothes and souvenirs and enjoyed a delicious chocolate fondue from Haagen-Dazs. We needed that, after 3 weeks with hardly any sweets. We were getting a little worried about how we would get back to the hostel, when we met a guy from our hostel at the supermarket. What a lucky coincidence. It’s just safer to have a male person with you here (that’s what the guy at the reception told us). We wanted to take a bus with him but unfortunately, they just stopped running (at 8pm) but we could then actually haggle a taxi down to R150.

That was a good day in Josie and we didn’t feel like we had missed out on anything. I hadn’t particularly liked what I had seen of Johannesburg. Therefore, we were excited that our safari to Kruger would start the next day.

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It began with a lot of driving. First, all the tourists in our area of Johannesburg were collected by Viva Safaris and then we started heading up to Kruger. We stopped for lunch in a restaurant with delicious food. An Italian couple even ordered the garlic snails. However, they hadn’t known what snails are, so in the end, they didn’t want to eat them. My chance to try one as I always said that they are disgusting and I don’t want to eat one. Well, now I can confirm my opinion; I won’t eat one again if I can avoid it. Other than that we pretty much just drove the whole day. We reached Balule game reserve (which joins together with Kruger) shortly after 4pm and noticed that this safari was a class higher. First of all, we had a room and not tents and the beds were so comfortable and everything in the lodge so nicely put together, that we could just relax for once. Then, they had an animal spotting terrace where we saw some baboons, warthogs and big elephant bulls. The elephants were as big as the safari vehicle we boarded afterwards and they came so close that we could be glad that they were feeling friendly.

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When that excitement was over, we climbed into the safari car and went for a sunset drive. Somehow, we just don’t get lucky with night drives. Again, we only saw a few and very general animals like impalas, giraffes and luckily a few genets. When it was dark, we stopped somewhere in the bush, where the staff had set up dinner with tables and lots of candles. It was very romantic and the star spangled sky amazing. We had another South African specialty called pap (?). I had heard a lot about it. Mostly that it doesn’t taste like anything, you can compare it to polenta and it’s so thick that you could kill somebody with it. Luckily, it did not taste like polenta and i actually liked it with the tomato sauce and chicken they served it with. After dinner, they drove us back to our nice room. Unfortunately, not even the hyena that usually comes by showed up.

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The next morning, a different safari jeep picked us up and we entered Kruger at Open Gate. We spent the WHOLE day driving around Kruger, spotting animals. Our driver, Dominic, had amazing eyes. Sometimes, he’d stop the car, leaving us all wondering what had happened until he would say: well, don’t you see the rhinos? And even then it took us a moment to find them. How could he have concentrated on the roads, the cows and impalas next to the road and still see the cool animals? If anyone would find us a leopard, it was him. But at 2pm, still no cat had showed up. We stopped for lunch at Satura camp, where they had a pizza place and Mugg and Beans. If you go to Kruger, you don’t have to be worried about the infrastructure.

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After lunch, we kept hoping. We still awed at the cute elephant and hippo babies but it would have been nice to see some predators. So, when we saw a lot of cars stopping at one spot, we knew there had to be something. And there was. A giraffe only had a hole where its head and neck used to be with two big female lions and four cubs enjoying the rest of its body as a meal. You could really see that their mouths were red from the blood! That was something!

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Then it already was almost sunset time again and we had to drive to our camp for the night. It was called Marc’s Treehouse Lodge and when we arrived there, we wished that we could stay longer. We really slept in a treehouse with our own bathroom. There are no fences around the camp and so there is the chance of seeing an animal.

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After dinner we went straight to bed, as we were exhausted from all that driving around in the dry heat and we had to get up at 5.30am for our bushwalk. The bush walk was okay. We learned some more things about plants and termites. After an hour, we were glad that a good breakfast was waiting for us and then we unfortunately had to start our journey back to Johannesburg, as our flights were leaving the next day.

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What an awesome time these past four weeks has been. What an adventure! I feel so lucky that I could experience all that (and on top I always had such nice company). And I had no problems with Malarone at all. Not more than the usual dizziness anyways. Neither did Michèle. I guess all the foods and drinks we had were clean as well, since our stomachs never bothered us! So, everything was a success and I’ll definitely come back to Africa to see some more of this continent.

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This is not a holiday, it’s an adventure (Okavango Delta, road trips)

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We really felt like we had arrived in Africa, when our big truck had to roll onto what looked like a hand-crafted and way to small ferry, that then brought us to the other side of a river. But the boat made it and our journey into the Okavango Delta continued, now pretty much off-road – they called that an African massage- to our camp at Jambo Junction. That was a like a resort campground with permanent tents. We finally had the sausage rolls for lunch and afterwards were scheduled for our first mokoro ride. A mokoro is a boat made out of a tree trunk and its engine is a person with a long stick to push away from the ground like in Venice. We were pretty unsure whether it was safe to bring the camera as these things were incredibly wobbly but after two minutes, we felt completely at ease with our skilled pole man and could enjoy the BEAUTIFUL ride. It’s such a peaceful way of transport, as you glide over the surface of the water almost noiselessly and sit on the same level as the water. I could have done that all day! How lovely! But we got off on an island and took a short walk with a guy named Nature, reading elephant tracks and other signs the animals left behind.

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The ride back in the mokoro was even better, as we could observe some hippos that were really close by. Plus, the sun was just setting and I witnessed one of my most special sunsets. By then, we were starving again and could hardly await our dinner (potato salad, coleslaw and braaied chicken).

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The next morning started with another wonderful mokoro ride until we reached another island, where we went for a longer walk. We learned more about animals and their behavior but unfortunately only saw a few birds, shit loads of elephant poo and cows. But no elephants 😦

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Our pole men drove us back, where a nice brunch awaited us. Then, we had some time to relax, read, play darts (the group of my exchange student friend was there as well) until at 2.30pm it was our turn to try steering a mokoro. We were pretty sure that we would fall in but I actually found it easier than SUP to balance. Steering was a different story and there was a lot of laughter when boats would disappear in the high grass again. But I guess we had a talented group because afterwards, they let us pole ourselves to a swimming area in the delta, although that wasn’t really planned into the schedule. Our whole group came swimming, even our 70 year old grandmother, which proofed again, what an awesome group we have! By the way, that 70 year old lady did everything we did too with just as much energy as us. I can only hope that I will still be as fit and as adventurous as her, when I reach that age.

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After the refreshing bath in the clear water, it was time for another sunset mokoro ride with our poler. It doesn’t get boring. To watch the sunset, we sat down on an island and then, just as we were putting the correct killer to jail, a whole group of elephants (including super cute babies) came to the water to drink. Wow, what a nice surprise! I almost missed the sunset because I was so mesmerized by them.

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Unfortunately, we then had to go back before it became completely dark and when we reached the camp, our mokoro riding days were over.

For dinner we had bean soup, lamb meat, sausages and vegetables with potatoes and afterwards we played a game next to the fire under the full moon. The chance of seeing lots of stars had gone astray but at least we could find the path to our tents without a problem.

On Friday morning, it was time to pack up again and then board an army truck, that transported us to a different boat landing place. From there we took a boat through the delta for 2,5 hours. It was beautiful but freezing! So, we were glad when we finally spotted Nina and Gerhard waiting for us. We quickly made some tuna sandwiches for the road and then drove towards Maun, where the people who wanted could catch a scenic flight over the delta. The pictures showed that it was an experience worth doing but since I don’t like flying that much, I preferred walking into town to buy some supplies for the long road trips ahead and then get an iced coffee with the others who remained on the ground. They even had wifi there and I got a quick chance to talk to my family.

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That night we arrived at the camp in the dark and would leave it again by 5am, so it would be a rather short night. Since a girl wanted to also have the camping experience for one night, we switched and went into her room. Unfortunately, we took the night were they had the most basic accommodation of all and I thought it was even colder than in the tent. Good that I brought my lovely warm sleeping bag this time 🙂

Dinner that night was rice with some kind of chicken stew. Very tasty once again.

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I was surprised that I was able to eat breakfast at 4.30am but maybe it’s being outdoors so much. We packed some sandwiches for lunch that we could eat on the bus when we wanted because what followed was 11 hours on the road with a few toilet stops.

At least, we arrived at Stevensford reserve when the sun was still up. It was a nice place to camp and the lodges looked really good as well. We quickly set up our tents and then boarded a game drive jeep. We saw a family of warthogs (Pumba) running around and some impalas jumping. And that was it then. All the other animals seemed to have disappeared 😦 But we knew they had to be somewhere, since we saw zebras, when we were coming with the truck. We finally did see some cute dwarf mongooses and then a single giraffe we first thought was a statue because he didn’t move for at least 2min. On our way back, it was dark night and therefore, we used a spotlight to find more animals. We saw a few rabbits and also an antbear crossing the road, which apparently is quite lucky.

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By the time we arrived back at the camp, I was starving and therefore glad that a hot dinner was ready. Cardi had cooked a typical South African Bobodie (yellow rice with a meat and cheese sauce, a little bit like a good nachos dip and a dessert made out of custard cream and oreos). We enjoyed that around the warming campfire and grew slightly melancholic, as this would be our last night as a group. They then even sang happy birthday for Switzerland as it was 1. August, which was quite a special thing to do 🙂

The night was quite cold but the cool thing was, that we were right next to a river again and the shower was hidden behind a tree and wood and the only toilet was also just behind a wooden fence that was open towards the river, that you could enjoy the view.

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We packed up our things for the last time and soon after that, crossed back into South Africa. We had rice salad and some leftovers at a gas station rest stop for lunch and then started the last hundred kilometers back to Johannesburg. What a fantastic week we’ve had on our Victoria Falls to Johannesburg overland safari. The memories I can keep are amazing. I can fully recommend this overland tour with Nomads. All the other groups we’ve met along the way seemed in high spirits as well. Maybe it’s just the same kind of people who decides to go on a safari in Africa. Or maybe, we were just really lucky, to have been thrown together with 18 really like minded people, who have made even the long hours on the truck really agreeable.

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This is not a holiday, it’s an adventure (Vic Falls & Chobe NLP)

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Johannesburg didn’t make a good impression on first sight. It looked like one big ghetto and right next to the streets there was always red mud and dirt. I didn’t feel too comfortable at Park Station either and therefore I took the Gautrain (R160!! Swiss price) directly to the airport. There were security guards patrolling all night and therefore I felt quite safe and there were enough soft benches to sleep on.
The next morning I was waiting for Michèle at the gate. She cut it really close since her plane from Zurich had been delayed but at last we sat on the plane together. What was more, we were seated right next to each other, although there were other empty rows left.
The visa to enter Zimbabwe cost us 30$ and it took us an eternity to receive it because they worked really slow. When the 15min taxi ride to our hostel also cost us 30$, we realized that this would be a tourist rip off place. Food/drink prices were almost Swiss everywhere.

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The hostel was cool with people who played music, a pool and art chairs made out of bottle tops but again the employees were working on their own speed. In the evening a loud party was going on until the early morning hours but I was so exhausted, that I had no trouble sleeping.

The next day we met our 18 people travel group. Our first impression was that everybody was very relaxed and open and it stayed that way until the end. This was the perfect group 🙂 Our guides Gerhard and Cardi were awesome, too and contrary to my fears after some reviews I had read, we always received delicious and plenty of food that Cardi prepared for us.
For a short moment at the orientation I was reminded again how small the world is, because suddenly, there was this girl from Switzerland, who did an exchange in the US at the same time as me. We never met by chance in Switzerland but there we run into each other in Vic Falls. It turned out that she wasn’t on the same safari though.

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Entry into Vic Falls National Park would cost another 30$ but at least that was included into our tour price. We walked along paved paths, heard the thunder of the falls and looked in awe at the masses of water that fell down. It was cool to see the falls from so many different angles from the viewing spots. We were lucky that there was hardly any wind and therefore, we hardly got sprayed by water and could make fun of all the yellow rain poncho groups.
On our way back, we were accompanied by many monkeys.

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By lunch time it was really hot and therefore we jumped into the Rainbow Hotel pool. Yes, our first night on the safari we spend in a nice hotel.
Later, we took a taxi with some others to Safari Lodge to watch a beautiful sunset over a waterhole.
Then we had Chicken Curry for dinner with the group at Shearwater Café.
Early the next morning, we loaded our luggage into our truck Nina, and drove to Botswana. Along the road we already saw some elephants and giraffes which provoked excited screams from our side. To enter into Botswana, we had to step into some poisonous liquid to free us from possible germs of foot and mouth disease.
Then, we reached our camp for the first night and received a short demonstration of how to set up our spacious tent.
When we all had our little home, we jumped onto a safari vehicle with open sides, to start our first game drive in Chobe National Park. Our driver said that in a game you can win or lose, so it’s not guaranteed to see animals. The boarders of the park are open and the animals roam freely but we weren’t disappointed. We saw hordes of impalas, elephants, giraffes, hippos (only in the mud), buffalos and much more.
After lunch, we hopped onto a boat to go on a sunset cruise. We saw soooo many elephants and especially the babies were extremely cute. Furthermore, there were crocs, more deer like creatures and colorful birds. The things and places we had seen that day were spectacular!
When we returned to the camp, “lecka” dinner was already waiting for us (butternut apple soup/ pork steak with mashed potatoes, cabbage and carrots.) It was delicious! I’d call that a successful first day.
Everybody then retired early as the alarm clock would ring at 5am.

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The next day was filled with a long stretch of driving and we were told that in order to keep the duration a minimum, we wouldn’t stop for anything general like “an elephant or a giraffe” (that would be like slowing down in the US to observe a deer). But still we saw rare wild dogs, a hyena, elephants, giraffes and different kinds of antelopes along the road.
The border-crossing into Namibia worked without any problems and after another few hours of driving, we stopped for lunch at a rest area along a 200km road without the slightest bend. Our truck Nina fully showed its functionality then, as it turned into a food truck and we cod enjoy a delicious pasta salad on our camping chairs in the shade.

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Our camp was right next to a river. Since we arrived at 4pm, we still had two hours to shower with the warmth of the sun and then enjoy the view with a Savanna and good company. Dinner was a tasty spaghetti bolognaise and while we were eating, we could listen to some hippo noises.
Before going to bed, I saw the first spider in Africa that’s worth mentioning. It was a big black one and looked similar to the fake Halloween ones in Switzerland.

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That night we got to sleep in until 7. After breakfast we hit a dirt road to make our way to the entrance to the Okawango Delta on Botswana’s side. We saw some animals again and then crossed the border again. There, we either had to leave our raw meat behind or cook it there on the spot, in order not to carry any germs to Botswana. So we cooked our sausages that the meat didn’t get wasted.
That was a good opportunity for the killer in our group to get rid of a few people. We are playing this game during our trip where everybody had to draw a card and there is one killer among all other civilians. In the evening we have to guess who the killer is and send someone to jail. It’s quite fun but apparently, I was an easy victim, as I was the first one who got murdered. Luckily, it’s only a game, otherwise, I feel very safe on this trip.

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The next adventure lies just around the corner

On 12. July I will fly to Durban, South Africa and go surfing and diving for 7-10 days. Afterwards, I’ll fly to Victoria Falls and start an 8 day safari towards Johannesburg. I’m very excited about finally being able to see some of the African wilderness. In the end, we will spend a few days in Johannesburg and 3 days in Krueger National Park.

Preparations are done and the only thing I still have to do is pack my bag. Plus, the question about whether to take a malaria prophylaxis or just an emergancy medicine is still not entirely answered. What do you think? Have you been to this area and what experiences have you made?

Check back here to find some pictures of the animals I will spot 🙂

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Ras al Khaima and Dubai 2. to 10. Oktober 2013

View from the rooftop terrace
View from the rooftop terrace

Since our flight was leaving from Munich (sometimes that’s a lot cheaper than from Zurich), we had to take a bus to get to that city in Bavaria. We chose meinfernbus.de a discounter bus which brings you cheaply to many destinations in Germany. The highlight of the journey was when the bus boarded a ferry which brought us from Constance to Meersburg. In Munich, it took us quite a while to get from the bus stop to the airport because the subway trains were completely jam-packed and not on time due to the ongoing Oktoberfest. I wasn’t sad that we were basically next to the Wiesen but not going there. The things there get more and more expensive every year and for the past three years I’ve been there, every time it was more difficult to get inside a tent. There are just too many people.

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After about 1,5 hours (for a ride that should have taken 40min) with our suitcases on the subway among people in Trachten smelling of alcohol (not so pleasant for the people not smelling of alcohol), we finally reached the airport. Our bags were checked in quickly at the Emirates counter and once we figured out that we just had to walk behind the check in counters to get to our gate, we just had enough time to have a small dinner and a well-earned beer.

Flying with Emirates was great! Unfortunately, we didn’t have a window seat but the outdoor cameras on the plane were running the whole time and so we could still enjoy the view outside. The meal was probably the best I ever had on a plane, we received a warm face wash cloth twice and the flight attendants came by with drinks quite often. Plus, there were so many movies, music channels and video games to choose from that I was already looking forward to our return flight when we landed in Dubai. The 38 C that greeted us at 6.30am were a nice change to 8 degree freezing Germany.

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Finally, after more than an hour, we made it through the passport control and were greeted by a driver who brought us and two other guests to the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Ras al Khaimah. They know how to welcome people because the first thing we received was a chocolate chip cookie 🙂

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The interior of the hotel was elegant, clean and above all nicely air-conditioned. It has 15 floors and from the top floor you can walk up a stairway to a roof top bar and pool. I always enjoyed that when I felt like cooling off but there wasn’t enough time to go to the beach anymore.

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Breakfast was delicious with a great variety of things to choose from. The hotel also offers a free shuttle bus to the nearest mall every evening, a shuttle to the private beach every hour and a bus to and from Dubai Mall several times a week.

Aquarium at the Dubai Mall
Aquarium at the Dubai Mall

The beach was beautiful with white, shelving sand, so that I actually was able to swim and not just flounder about. There were always enough chairs with umbrellas. So, with the sea, sun and my book I had everything I needed. It’s wonderful to wake up in a place where you never have to ask what the weather will be like today because it’s always hot and sunny.

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We had dinner in a different place every evening since we only booked with breakfast. There’s a Chili’s in Manar Mall but other than that, there are mostly fast food stalls. We did try one with local food though. I liked it but that was before we had dinner in the hotel or on the Bedouin safari. The food there was better, above all at the Bedouin camp. Since the pick-up time at Manar Mall never gave us enough time to do everything we wanted (there is a pretty bay area outside and after being inside the freezing mall it’s quite nice to take a stroll outside or sit on the green grass) we usually walked back to our hotel (about 20 min). I was glad that it was possible to walk at all, since I had read before that there are no sidewalks. However, where we lived there were sidewalks to go to all the important places and even some road bumps to slow down the car. You just have to watch out a little more when you cross a road or walk over the parking lot. Hardly anyone is walking here. Why should they? Everyone has a big car. Mostly white cars, probably because of the heat.

Sunset over the desert
Sunset over the desert

Apparently, there was a Muslim holiday because from Friday to Sunday there were a lot more people in the mall. Groups of men in their white dresses and the females in black. No color variations like in Kuala Lumpur. I tried to cover my shoulders and knees too and just be polite but it still seemed to me that often the employees in Manar Mall (not in Dubai) would have preferred to talk to a man instead of me, for example if I needed to ask something.

Dubai city center
Dubai city center

One day, we rented a car and took a trip to Dubai. I took print screens of every step of the way on google maps, while we were at the Starbucks at Manar Mall. There was no free wifi in our hotel. These pictures were enough to bring us to the city without any detours. There are a lot of cars and some of them are driving horrendously but I still felt save most of the time. It’s quite special to drive on a highway through the desert because the only environment we saw as soon as we left Ras al Khaimah was sand, a few trees, bushes, camels and goats.

Burj al Arab
Burj al Arab

Getting around in the city was a lot more difficult, since all the streets are one way streets and if you take a wrong road it can take you a while to find back to where you are supposed to go. It’s good to have the high Burj Khalifa as point of reference.

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We finally reached the pretty looking Burj al Arab but it wasn’t really possible to leave the car except if you parked it on the other side of the 8 lanes of a two way road. We didn’t want to take the walk in that heat. We drove on to the marina bay and the palm island Jumeirah but that’s probably only interesting if you see it from the air or have a hotel there. I guess we could have saved the gas to go down there and so drove back to Burj Khalifa, where the Dubaj Mall is located.

Burj Khalifa from below
Burj Khalifa from below

The mall is huge!!! Next to many stores, movie theaters and restaurants, there is a whole ice rink (not just a small one) and an aquarium in it. The aquarium looked beautiful from the outside. You can look at sharks and all the other fish without paying anything! However, it looked so impressive that we wanted to see more and bought a ticket for the tunnel and the zoo. It was really cool to walk below sting rays and sharks and see so many fish living in one glass tank without eating each other. I wished I could have stayed in there all day!

Looking down form the highest building on the world
Looking down form the highest building on the world

At 8pm we made it to the fountain show outside of the mall. There you have a nice view on Burj Khalifah and another nice tall building. Again, I thought that a big city looks much nicer at night, when all the buildings let their lights shine.

The fountain show didn’t impress me too much and so we went to check out some more stores. At 10.30pm we decided that it was about time to leave. Luckily, we then walked past the entrance to the highest building in the world and to our surprise they had a free slot at 11pm (at the hotel they told us that we had to book the tickets 2 days in advance plus, directly at the entrance they were a lot cheaper too). We paid the 125 Dirhams and they said that there was also enough space right now and that we could proceed to the elevator.

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Luck was with us again because there were no other people and the lady let us ride the 124 floors alone. It only took 1 minute, my ears popped but I didn’t even get dizzy, as I sometimes do in other elevators. The view from the top was stunning! It’s really worth it to go up there when it’s dark! The fountain show looks much better from up there. Plus, there are free binoculars which also show on a screen how the 360° view would look during the day.

When we rode back down it was past 11pm and there were still quite many people in the mall. Maybe here it’s even lucrative to let the mall open for so long.

Finding back to our highway was a lot easier than taking the correct road to the mall and so we drove back through the desert on the one road leading through it, lit up by a street lamp every 50m.

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On another day we did a desert safari with a BBQ dinner. A driver picked us and another couple up in his big (white) Nissan SUV and brought us to a meeting point 1hour20min away from RAK. It’s probably an obligatory stop to make some more money off the tourists because you could have paid to go quad driving or bought souvenirs and food or drinks. Since we weren’t really interested in any, 20 min later, we sat in the car again. The driver had let out some of the air in the wheels to make the car ready for the sand. I thought we were going in a jeep but apparently this car is good for something more than just asphalt. Racing up and down the red dunes was just awesome! Our driver did a great job because I am sure that if any of us had driven the car, we would have rolled over several times. But this way, it was like the driver said, a great “Achterbahn” ride.

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I was sad when the ride was over and we got back on the normal road. A little while later we stopped at a Bedouin camp slightly off the highway. That place was extremely touristy. You could try sand boarding, make henna tattoos or take a short camel ride. But everything only took 2-3 minutes. There wasn’t much time anyways because then a dance show started and the buffet was opened. The food was even better than the dinner in the hotel!

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When the show was over and the driver saw that we had emptied our plates, we got back in the car and drove back to the hotel via the highway. How boring 🙂

Now, the week is already over and we’re back on the bus to the airport. The weather is still as beautiful and hot as every prior day and I’d love to bring some sun rays back home.