Playing tourist at home

With all the opportunities to take holidays abroad, it's easy to overlook the gems on one's doorstep.

Because I work in the UAE, pay bills and make sure to get my car serviced regularly and deposit money into my local bank account and am a weekly customer at a favourite dry cleaner who is as careful with my clothes as I am, I never think of myself as a visitor here.

For my husband, who was born in Sharjah and raised in Abu Dhabi, the UAE is even more of a home. He should be the ideal tour guide for visitors, able to show them the country's hidden wonders that they would never find alone.

The reality, however, is otherwise. Mr T has never been to Fujairah, and has no idea what Ras al Khaimah or Umm al Qaiwain can offer. I have yet to find the time to visit the public beaches on the Corniche, and have never visited the Burj al Arab or Burj Khalifa. Mr T has never been to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and I have never tried authentic Emirati cuisine.

It was no different for me when I called Jordan or Canada home. I don't know a single person who has visited Jordan and not camped in the majestic Wadi Rum area, but I have yet to see what's so wonderful about a pile of strange rocks in the desert. As for Canada? I really should have at least made a pit-stop at Toronto's CN Tower.

One settles in so deeply with the details of everyday life and expends all available effort in planning intricate holidays far from the place labelled "home". The result? I know the streets of Paris and Vienna better than I know the location of my favourite shops in Marina Mall. And thanks to six years spent on a Bachelor's degree and a Master's, Mr T could easily find a job as a tour guide in Northern Cyprus, if he were so inclined.

Together, we have decided to get to know the UAE a little better, and our mission has been facilitated by the growing number of websites that offer discounts on everything from a meal or a hotel stay to a spa deal or a fun activity. Through the purchase of online vouchers and coupons for activities that we never even knew existed, we are slowly beginning to discover a new side to the country.

A three-hour-long sunset boat cruise around Abu Dhabi gave us a completely new perspective of the island and its surrounding islets. A fishing trip in Dubai introduced us to species we had no idea were found in these waters. Our favourite experience so far has been a desert safari, which included everything from riding horses and camels to dune bashing and rounding the night off with a BBQ dinner around a camp fire.

After two years and nine months in the country, I was finally able to sit down with a Bedouin for an informal chat about the customs and traditions of the UAE. I savoured the Emirati version of biryani, aromatic with spices and sweet with plump raisins. I tried chai karak for the first time: a hot blend of cardamom-infused sweet tea and creamy milk, warmed over coals, flavoured with the crisp breeze of a dry, desert night.

We felt like tourists that night, and realised we don't have to go very far to experience the type of adventure we crave while on an overseas holiday.

Published: May 30, 2011 04:00 AM


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