UIB Travels: The Sandbox – Dubai

Reflection: I’d just finished sand duning in the middle of the desert. The driver my group out of the SUV so that we could take a few pictures as the sun was setting.

Wednesday, 10.29.2014

I looked at my phone and saw that my taxi driver was calling me.  I didn’t have to answer it to know what he was going to say.  It was 8:15 am and he was right on time.  I’d made arrangements for him to pick me up three days prior and was happy to see his sleek black Lexus SUV parked directly in front of my brownstone when I looked out my bedroom window.  I answered and told him that I’d be down in a minute.

After doing one last check of my apartment (to ensure that I didn’t leave any appliances on or leave anything behind)  I grabbed my backpack, small carry-on (with wheels), travel pillow, and keys.  It would be about three weeks before I’d see the inside of my apartment.  I made my way down my hallway steps and gave my neighbor a hug as she wished me good luck on my trip.  When I opened the door my driver, Al – a jovial older Dominican man – was standing at the curb waiting to take my bags from me.  I gave him my carry-on and climbed into the backseat with my backpack.  It was hard to believe that the day had finally arrived.  I looked up at my brownstone from the car and smiled.  Al pulled off – I was on my way to JFK for the first leg of my trip, Dubai.

We made our way to JFK International Airport in Jamaica, Queens in no time and as I approached my terminal the butterflies in my stomach began to flutter haphazardly. I was so nervous.  I’d never flown for such a long period of time. Would I be OK?  Would the scaremongers that tried to talk me out of traveling alone (friends, family, and colleagues) be right?  Would something bad happen to me?  All of these questions ran through my head, but I silenced them with a deep breath and a confident internal pep talk.  “Breathe Pennie breath.  You will be fine.  You planned for this. You’re ready.”

Selfie: Took a shot of myself after calming the butterflies and I approached my terminal at JFK International Airport in Jamaica, Queens.

I hopped out of the taxi, paid Al, and made my way inside to check-in.  I opted to take my backpack on the plane with me and made provisions with the Emirates worker to have my carry-on bag given to me in Dubai the following day instead of it going directly to Bangkok (and being given to me two days later).

After clearing the TSA checkpoint, I scoured the airport for moderately priced decent food (because I was starving), but wound up settling for overpriced Dunkin Donuts since my options were limited.  $15.00 bucks later, I found my way to an empty seat near my gate, plugged my phone charger into the nearest outlet, and unwrapped my lackluster turkey & cheese sandwich on whole wheat and proceeded to eat – it would do.

I had about an hour to kill so I contacted loved ones to let them know  my status.  I received so many words of encouragement and love that I could hardly contain myself.  A few tears escaped my eyes (I’m always crying – I’m so dramatic/sentimental) as I listened to friends tell me how I’d inspired them, how I’d changed so much in the last year (that was the biggest compliment because the last year has been a tough one for me – healing from a very hard breakup, quitting a toxic job, moving into my own place, adjusting to living alone, and learning to open my heart up to love again), and how excited they were for me.  Before I knew it the time flew, my zone was called – it was time for me to board.

Flying Emirates

I made my way onto the Emirates A380 airbus at around 11:30 am.  I’m sure that the broad smile on my face made me looking like a deranged psychiatric patient off her medication, but I didn’t care.  Sure I had a 12 hour flight ahead of me, but it didn’t matter,  I was on my way to spend 24 glorious hours in the United Arab Emirates (also known as the UAE)!

 I chose to fly this award-winning airline because its reputation for superb service, copious amounts of delicious food, extra leg room (which was important to me, I’m 5’7″ – all legs), entertainment, and large bathrooms.  All of this IN ECONOMY!

Here are two videos of the A380 airbus (the plane that I flew from NYC to the UAE).  The first video is shorter and focuses more on first class accommodations.  The second one highlights economy accommodations.

After watching these videos I’m sure you can see why I chose to fly this airline!  For additional information on what I paid for my ticket (roundtrip and layover extensions) please see my previous post: https://unicorninbrooklyn.com/2014/11/21/my-first-solo-trip-abroad-logisitics/.

Welcome Package: I arrived to my window seat and was greeted by this –  a wrapped blanket,  pillow, and a keepsake travel pouch.
Inside of the travel pouch I found a pair of warm travel socks, an eye mask, and a travel toothbrush with toothpaste.
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The Holy Trinity! I may not have flown first class, but I felt like I did. I was the only passenger in my row. This meant I would be able lift up the armrests and lay out in comfort!

My meals aboard the plane were subpar and delicious.  The first meal wasn’t what I wanted, but I made the most of it.  As mentioned in the above (second) video, you are given a menu a few minutes before your meal is served to you.  There is an option of three different options with each meal.  Might I add, all food is halal (another important thing for me because I do not eat pork).

Lunch Menu: I wanted the fish entree, but by the time they reached my row they were all out of that dish 😦


Hated It: I did NOT enjoy this meal at all. The chicken was rubbery and bland. I took one bite and knew that it wouldn’t do.

Since I didn’t care for the first meal I was given, I asked the flight attendant for another option.  He presented me with another meal option within minutes – once again, superb service!  This selection was not on the menu as I believe it was one of the lighter options that the airline offered to those upon special request.

Plan B:  The salmon was overcooked and the potatoes were bland. I wound up picking at the salmon and leaving most of the entree to the side only to devour my dessert, salad, and bread (not pictured above) instead.

Between lunch and breakfast, Emirates offers their passengers an assortment of drinks (non-alcoholic & alcoholic) and fresh fruit.  We were also served fresh hot vegetarian pizza.  As you can imagine I scarfed my pizza down because I was starving (I didn’t eat my lunch entree)! I not only ate my pizza, but I the older Indian woman’s pizza that came and sat in my row (*rolls eyes*).

How did she wind up in my row you may ask?  Here’s the deal.  Within an hour or so after takeoff, I’d made myself very comfortable.  I had my shoes off, my Bose headphones (you’re given headphones to borrow in-flight, but I had my own) on my head, my travel pillow around my neck, and the TV on in front of me.  I was enjoying myself, perhaps too much – I didn’t do something very critical and wound up kicking myself later because of it.

The moment that I realized that I’d been fortunate enough to get an entire row to myself I should’ve stretched out immediately.  Why? To mark my territory and to ward off seat jumpers like the woman who came to my row.  Since I didn’t do that, the aisle seat was left wide open. “Hi, is anyone sitting here”? FUCK! That was not a question that I felt like answering truthfully, but I did.  I first asked her why she wanted to know, then learned she was looking to move her seat because of a crying baby in her row.  Deep sigh… I told her that it was OK, but that I would be stretching out shortly.

She returned momentarily and made herself comfortable in her own seat.  I observed her with an eagle eye to make sure she didn’t try to put her stuff in the seat next to me.  Yeah, I know it was too late to get gangsta now, but the  seat next to me  was all that I had left.  I had plans to stretch out in it and I had to guard it with my life! She was a petite, soft-spoken, older woman with a long silver braid.  I could tell that in her heyday she was very pretty.

After a little while we engaged in conversation (that she initiated) and I learned her story (she was widowed, had three children, and was on her way to India to visit with family for a few weeks).  We kept our conversations brief as we were engrossed in our own movies/TV shows.  As I mentioned before, I hadn’t really eaten and it was about 6 hours (maybe more, I’m estimating here) into my flight – time for pizza.  I was given my pizza and noticed that the woman refused hers.  It was then that I asked her to request it so that I could eat hers.  I didn’t care how greedy I looked, I was starving and had just secured a decent dinner.  To my delight, she obliged and I was given her pizza in addition to mine.

In Between Meal: In between meals you’re given hot vegetarian pizza. It was hot, fresh, and flavorful.

Thursday, 10.30.14

I woke up after catching  few zzz’s and realized that it was almost time for breakfast.  To my dismay this woman was still sitting in my row cramping my style – literally!  I didn’t hear a crying baby anywhere –  it was time for this heaux to go back to her own damn seat.  While I was able to layout somewhat in the fetal position, I wanted to stretch my legs out and I needed her seat to do that.  It never happened.  I accepted it and just made the best of my situation.

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Breakfast: This meal was DELICIOUS! I finally liked my meal. I opted for the Chana masala (which had a nice kick to it) with vegetable samosas (that were very flavorful and filling, yet light). The croissant (so hot you could see the steam coming from it) was taken from a basket wrapped in a cloth napkin and presented to each passenger with a tong.

Between breakfast, the few hours of sleep that I was able to get, and the excitement of landing in Dubai in a few short hours, I started to care less and less about the woman occupying my row.  I busied myself by doing a little reading (I’ve been trying to get through Eat, Love, Pray for the longest – its just not keeping my interest), watched a movie (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), and did a little journaling.

At approximately 7:40 am the pilot announced to the crew that they should prepare for decent.  I buckled my seat belt,  raised my chair from the reclining position, opened my window shade, and smiled with glee – I’d finally arrived, I was about to land in “The Sandbox”!

Landing and disembarkment went smoothly.  I was able to make my way to baggage claim and through customs without any hiccups.  While I wasn’t exactly ready for the intense heat, I welcomed it. It was a nice change from what I’d just left, a brisk 45 degree Fahrenheit.  I exited the airport and walked into 90 degree  + weather – let the fun begin!

Landed: Lipstick all gone, looking like a deer in headlights – ha! Who cares, I’m in Dubai baby!

My first attempt at riding a taxi from the airport was a fail.  I wound up wasting $10.00 USD (or 36 Dirhams  in Arab currency).  While I knew the name of my hotel, Corporate Executive Hotel Al Khoory (http://www.hmhhotelgroup.com/corp/unitedarabemirates/dubai/corpexecutivehotelalkhooryalwasl), I didn’t know the address.  This didn’t stop my female taxi driver (based your sex you were given either a male or female taxi driver.  I’m not sure what they do for heterosexual couples, I assume you are given a male taxi driver) from showing me into the backseat of the car and starting the meter.  She drove approximately 50 feet and stopped to ask me the name and address of my hotel again.  Since I didn’t know the address, she called someone from her cell phone (as the meter was running) to ask directions, but that didn’t help – the person she reached out to had no idea.  It seemed that my hotel was built overnight and neither my taxi driver, the person she called, or any of the women near our taxi knew how to get me there, wonderful (that’s sarcasm by the way).

Since I had no access to Wi-Fi (my phone was on airplane mode so that I wouldn’t incur roaming charges), I was unable to go online and retrieve my hotel’s address.  At this point I was fuming.  I’d just flown 12 hours; I was hot, I had jetlag (Dubai is 9 hours ahead of NYC), and I wanted nothing more than nice hot shower.  I wound up telling her that I had no choice but to go back into the airport so that I could use their Wi-Fi to get her the information that she needed.  Do you know this lunatic proposed that she wait in the car while I went inside?  She actually thought that I’d agree to her running her meter as she waited, what a dingbat.

As I proceeded to get out, she became somewhat irate because I didn’t want to pay the fare, why should I?  She ran her meter KNOWING that she didn’t know where to take me and she kept the meter running as she tried to get directions.  As frustrated as I was I used my common sense – here I was, a Black woman in a middle eastern country, trying to argue my fare.  That probably wasn’t the smartest idea.  I decided to play it cool and comply with her demands.  I begrudgingly paid the fare and exited her taxi cab.

Take two – After exiting the airport (it took me all of five minutes to get the information that I needed) I walked back to the taxi area.  This time I had a friendly Nigerian woman (my previous driver was middle eastern) driver.  She didn’t really knew where she was going, but she was able to get directions from one of her colleagues and from a gentleman on the road along the way.  She ultimately drove me to my hotel; it ran me about $15.00 USD.

I arrived at concierge a few minutes shy of 9:00 am hoping to check in early, but that wasn’t an option.  I was informed that my room wouldn’t be ready until after 11:00 am so I had to wait.  Luckily, I made arrangements to link up with a woman from my travel group (Nomadness Travel Tribe – a worldwide group of almost 9,000 (predominately minority) members started by a young Black woman by the name of Evita Turquoise Robinson, three years ago.  The group dispels the myth that Blacks don’t travel.  Nomadness is a loving network of individuals that open up their homes and offer a wealth of information with regards to anything travel related.  In a future travel related post you will learn just how DOPE this group truly is, it literally saved me from a bad situation in Hua Hin, Thailand) ahead of time.  She checked in Wednesday night and was still in her room when I arrived – perfection.  I had the front desk call her to let her know that I was coming up and everything worked out seamlessly.  I was able to order room service and crash on one of the beds in her room until my room was ready.

Once my room was ready, I headed down to concierge to pick up my key then went back upstairs to shower and change.  Before I knew it, it was time to head to the Dubai Majestic Towers (http://www.dubaimajestic.com/ – which I HIGHLY recommend patronizing when in Dubai because it is conveniently located near stores, it’s immaculate, offers great views of the city, its near night life – there is a nightclub attached to it, and there plenty of places to eat in close proximity) so that I could meet with other members from my travel group.  We were to all get picked up by a representative from Arabian Adventures (https://www.arabian-adventures.com/en/tours-and-safaris/index.aspx) for the start of the Sundowner Safari Experience.

The safari experience took place in the desert and it included a falcon show, sand duning, a belly dancing show,  an open buffet of middle eastern cuisine (which included appetizers, an entree, salad, desserts,  wine, water, and soda), camel riding, henna, and hookah.  This excursion was about 7 hours (including pick up and drop off to the hotel).  It ran me $98.01 USD and was worth EVERY cent!

My fun-loving dining companions for the evening, fellow Nomadness Tribe members
Candid: Caught taking in the sights.


My Henna (pay no attention to how dry my hand is, lol)
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Silly Face: Posing with “Betsy”. I’m not sure whey she had this crocheted muzzle on, but I’d guess it was to prevent her from spitting.
Ride: Here I was about to take a ride on Betsy. I had to hold on extra tight when she got up and sat down – very fun bucket list experience (to ride a camel in the desert).


Cheese: Here I am posing with the falcon from the earlier show.


New Friends: Here I am posed up with my boo, Feemie. We met in Brooklyn earlier this year at a party.  It was refreshing to see her again in Dubai.



Photo Bombed: These two were cooky and I loved it. Again, members from my travel group, “Nat” & “Feeds”. Here we were smoking hookah and buggin’ out.
Hookah: Getting my hookah or shisha as it was called in the UAE.

The safari experience was amazing.  I’d say that my favorite part was a most spontaneous and unexpected moment.  As my dining companions and I sat Indian-style smoking hookah in the middle of the desert laughing and sipping our respective glasses of wine, we were moved to reflection.  “Feeds” said “look what we’re doing right now – we’re sitting in the middle of the fucking desert smoking and enjoying life.  This is living.”  It was in that moment that I felt overwhelmed with gratitude; it all hit me.  I looked around at the friendly faces that I was seated with and then up into the sky.  The stars were so bright and large – it was as if you could reach out and grab one.  I was living, not existing, but living – and it felt incredible.

We finished our hookah and were prompted by our SUV drivers to start making our way to our assigned cars so that we could be dropped off to our hotels.  I shared an SUV with three of the people pictured in the group shot above.

Instead of being dropped off to the Majestic Tower and immediately hitching a cab back to my hotel, I decided to chill and stay where I was.  The majority of the group was staying at the Majestic Towers (I told you it was a good choice – I’ll be staying there when I return) and they invited me up to their suite.  We cracked jokes, played music, took pictures, had drinks, and enjoyed each other’s company.  I received an abundance of well wishes on my inaugural solo trip abroad and that warmed my spirit.  I barely knew these people, but I felt that their love was genuine – yet another thing to be grateful for!

Several hours later, I wound up leaving as everyone made their way downstairs to go party at the club next door.  As bad as I wanted to hang, I wanted to shower more (I had sand all over my body and felt gross) and get a little rest.  I bid everyone adieu with big hugs and kisses then had the doorman hitch me a cab.

Group Shot: Everyone in this shot is in the same travel group. Some of the people in this pic are expats residing in the UAE, while some were passing through on their way back from South Africa. All and all – great people!

I was back to my hotel within 15 minutes (or so) and felt exhausted, yet excited.  My solo trip was starting off in a most magnificent way.  I had no idea what the rest of the trip would entail, but this was a beautiful way to kick things off.  In my mind things could only get better… and it did.

Friday, 10.31.2014

I woke up the next morning, checked out, and caught a taxi to the Dubai International Airport.  Next stop – Bangkok, Thailand!

 Stay tuned…..


Until Next Time Friends!

Pennie Penz


2 thoughts on “UIB Travels: The Sandbox – Dubai

  1. I have been following your journey through instagram and I must say reading about your experience brings the story to life! You’ve really been an inspiration to me to go see the world!

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