Some kind of “Hotel California”

Bombay is probably the most expensive city in India. It is where the richest people from the movie making and IT industries live. Their palaces conceal treasures and luxury beyond imagination. Renting a simple room in your usual neighborhood 50-60 minutes away from the center is 600 euros. So I choose Salvation Army Hostel because is the cheapest and it has the Lonely Planet recommendation. Huge mistake! The official story is that the hostel is highly institutionalized and the rules are strict, because Salvation Army is a religious organization. The unofficial reality is that one can drink, smoke and use drugs in here basically everywhere. The dirt in here is hard to describe, one wouldn’t know where to start from. The most useful items I own are the antibacterial gel and the sleeping bag!

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In the bedroom, two-leveled beds. In the bed “downstairs” is where Joseph lives. I say “lives” because he’s still got 19 more days of waiting for the results of  college admission exams. A trip back home would cost him too much. Joseph is 19 and he comes from the far East of the country, in Mizoram, farther away from Bangladesh. Everything is different back there. He doesn’t speak Hindi and I initially thought he’s Japanese. He abides by everything happening around him with great stoicism and although he lives in this polluted environment he never used any drugs or alcohol. He spends most of his days reading. He asks many questions and he’s a fast learner.
I meet many interesting travelers, with interesting stories and great ideas. There are people that in the mornings practice yoga in the hallways and also citizens of  respectable countries (Sweden, Switzerland, England) that have hashish running down their veins. It’s a long time their visas expired, some of them even sold their passports. All they live for is the next cigarette. Some kind Indians picked them from the streets, brought them to the hostel and send them food every day. They smoke in bed, lying on their backs. They beg, lie, fight for every cigarette and have cut-off crises that leave them shaking for half an hour. They wake up in the middle of the night and light very concentrated joints. I get sick and spend my second night throwing up. I get high fever and miss one of the meetings in the Bombay International School. If  I stay here I probably won’t get any better. Barely walking, I leave the “Salvation” hostel.

The Emirates

At the border I feel like I am participating in the Olympics.

First of all it’s because the procedure for getting the U.A.E. visa has changed into an obstacle race with many desks. Second of all because the competitors in this race are from all possible races on Earth. There are many men of color, so different. They’re from Africa, Asia, North America. They’re Indians, Koreans, Japanese, Australians, Chinese, Europeans…

We all have the same goal, leaving this airport either on a plane or with a visa… and thus get inside the Emirates.

As usual, actually getting the visa takes longer than they say. Nobody seems to be able to provide me with explanations as to why extra-procedures are necessary: in the end, maybe I really do look like a terrorist 😀 The officer asks “problems with Tehran…!?” then smiles and stamps my passport.

Image: Burj Al Arab (which in Arabic means The Arabs’ Tower),a luxury hotel in Dubai, U.A.E
Burj Al Arab

The first step outside the airport is the first step outside the air conditioning zone. The high temperature and the wet climate make for difficulties breathing. The hitch-hike is OK and I reach the city on the second vehicle. 2/3 of the automobiles are Toyota. In here, in the summer nobody takes shower between 7 am and 11 pm. That’s because the cold water pipe is too hot.

Dubai and Sharjah are two cities close to one another, with amazing beaches, strange-looking and extremely high buildings.

After a short ride through the city I stop in a palm trees-park. With my backpack as a pillow, I lay down in the protective shade of a palm tree. After the mad race to Istanbul, nothing seems to bother me anymore. Everything is perfect. Outside there are 50 degrees and what I inhale is half water, still I fall asleep under the palm tree and it feels good, like nothing bad can happen.

The mosques are superb with their beautiful colors and the architecture different from Islamic standards. Is the people that impress me less. The Arabs in the Emirates are so different from all Arabs I’ve met till now. They are cold, distant and very suspicious. I have the longest and most interesting conversations with Pakistanis and Indians. In the floor I live in there are forty Indians. They are very passionate and interested in everything is new and different. They receive my presentation on Romania with obvious joy.

In Dubai everybody working in services is from other countries. It’s hard to believe they are building a city almost entirely on sands. The rhythm they build in is crazy, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In few years Dubai will certainly make in the Top 10 cities of the world. Not in my top of favorite cities. It’s artificial, expensive and so superficial.