Category Archives: Triumphs

Smooched a Dolphin – and I liked it!

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What a sweetheart!

What a sweetheart!

Truly this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing for us….. it had been on my list of “wanna-do’s” for a long time – so we just did it!  Oh. My. Goodness.  If you EVER EVER EVER get the chance to go swim and play with dolphins, and there’s ANY way you can swing it, just do it.  Don’t fuss about the money, just do it.

At the Atlantis Palm, where my friend Koral and I had gone to the Lost Chambers Aquarium they offer a number of dolphin experiences at different price points and levels of interaction.  You can select one that fits your comfort zone, from kneeling at the lagoon edge and having a dolphin swim up close to you, to an experience that involves two dolphins, each one nosing under one of your feet, propelling you through the water!  We arranged for an appointment early in the morning… 1030.

Dolphin Bay!

Dolphin Bay!

I will never forget seeing our dolphin Mani Lou for the first time…. She was a lot bigger than I expected her to be for some reason.  She loved me.  I know she did, because she smooched me and asked TBG for my number.  At least that’s what he said….. .  And once, when she passed me, she swatted my legs with her tail!

A couple of the trainers and a dolphin

A couple of the trainers and a dolphin

The animals’ trainers appear to care very deeply for the welfare of their critters – they take great pains to provide safety instructions that are understood by everyone, including the youngest kiddos there.  We had to attend a safety and informational seminar before we could get in the water with their critters – I was very glad to see the obvious care they took to assure the dolphins’ safety and well-being.

We got to watch her swim for a bit and do some cheesy dolphin expected-stuff,   but we were introduced and got to pet her, and watch her swim, – she’d rub up against us, roll over on her back for belly scritches….  And looked at me like she knew *exactly* what I was saying to her, thanking her for allowing me to come to visit her in her world for a little while, and for playing with me.  Oh. My. Goodness.  It was amazing!  She was all rubbery and leathery and smooth and scarred and warm – not at all the cold wet feeling I’d anticipated.  We were all wearing neoprene wet suit things, and oddly, I think we felt sorta like her in the water – that neoprene wetsuit stuff is almost like dolphin skin.

TBG danced with her, holding her flippers....

TBG danced with her, holding her flippers….

Then the dance was done!

Then the dance was done!

There were dolphin hugs, kisses, a dance and tricks – each making me giggle even more than the last.  TBG was really liking this interaction – it was great fun watching him, he was smiling and laughing at her, and was just having a great time and so was I!

Look at her, smooching on my guy!

Look at her, smooching on my guy!

One of my favorite photos

One of my favorite photos

We could have stayed there all day with her!

We could have stayed there all day with her!

Can't you just tell that she loves me??

Can’t you just tell that she loves me??

Oh My Goodness!

Oh My Goodness!

I threw the hoop and Mani Lou brought it back to me!

I threw the hoop and Mani Lou brought it back to me!

Then, I got to scritch her under her chin.  Well, her throat.  Do dolphins have a chin?

Then, I got to scritch her under her chin. Well, her throat. Do dolphins have a chin?

Watching the small children that were also in this experience was enthralling.  Some were scared, some just a bit nervous, but one little girl was quite bold and eager….. I think her example helped the less-excited ones to be a bit less apprehensive.  Once engaged, they were an odd sort of a matched pair – the dolphin and the child.  I believe that there was some strange communication that happened between them and it was truly a special thing to observe.

Pretty snazzy looking armbands, huh?

Pretty snazzy looking armbands, huh?

This was truly one of the most fun things I’ve done here in Dubai.

This is what we look like right after we played with the Mani Lou!

This is what we look like right after we played with the Mani Lou!

Bucket List:

Swim with Dolphins – check.

Never did I Imagine

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That I would be living here.  Seeing these sights, living this life.

Never did I imagine that I would entertain myself on longish drives by watching for camels in the desert off the side of the road.  Or that I would be fortunate enough to have a massage therapist actually come to my villa and give me a massage.  Or that I would be shopping for bacon in the back walled-off section of a grocery store, feeling slightly unsettled, or somehow tarnished.  Or that I would learn haggling over prices so quickly, refusing to pay first or second asking price for just about anything.

This is a photo showing an abra crossing Dubai...

This is a photo showing an abra crossing Dubai Creek in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on 31 May 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes it hits me that this really *is* unimaginable.  Like the other day, a friend and I were sitting on this incredibly crowded rickety-looking wooden boat thing called an abra.  I was sitting in the back, next to the old rope and decrepit-looking wooden paddle/rudder thing for steering.  It was piloted by a man that didn’t speak any language I could identify, who simply hissed at us to pay the Dirham fee.  This abra had no rails, no ropes, no walls, no hand holds, nothing, just a big platform upon which to sit and smush together.

We were crossing over the Dubai Creek to a souk (market) on the other side….. I looked over at my friend and said “Do you realize that we are in a foreign country, riding an over-loaded boat that OSHA would go freekin carnival-ape-crazy over, to an open-air souk with no controls over what’s sold or how, and we’re not paying any sales taxes??  Did you ever imagine you’d be doing something like this???”  She smiled and said “And the ride’s costing us a whopping 27¢ too!”  Crazy.

Some of the things that we’ve done here, the experiences we’ve had, the stories we’ve heard, they’re like nothing I ever imagined would happen to me.  Please don’t read the way I come across in this blog like this whole adventure is routine for me – there ain’t *nothing* routine about Dubai or the Middle East, far as I can tell.  Not at all.

I did it! I rode a camel!

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While we were at Bab Al Shams resort, one of the activities available there was the opportunity to ride a camel – oh my goodness, I was eager and I was nervous and I was excited and I was happy.  OK, so…..  here we go.

After we’d had a bite at one of the Bab Al Shams’ restaurants, we walked around a bit exploring, looking at all that the resort had to offer…. Archery, horseback riding, miniature golf, swimming pools that were to die for gorgeous.  Honestly,  some were the “infinity” pools that just looked like they kept going on and on into the desert, some had big water features in them, some were shallow for the kiddies, and some swam right up to the bars.

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Lots of neat shady places to sit and just enjoy the peacefulness of the place, to actually relax and begin to people-watch.  Until I noticed, just past the pools, on the other side of a small ridge, where the resort meets the desert….

CAMELS.  More importantly, PEOPLE and CAMELS.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I pointed it out to TBG and he said “I suppose that’s where we’re headed, right?”.   Silly man.

I walked over the edge of the property, and down the little rise, and there were two camels, with the saddle-things already on them, with ropes, and a few people around them taking pictures.  I stood there for a few minutes, just sort of soaking in the idea that there was the desert, and here were the camels, and here I was.  Goosebumps.

A young woman was standing close to one of the camels, and I realized that she was about to go on a camel ride – I was watching closely.  The camel was kneeling down in the sand with his feet all scrunched up under him about as flat as I suppose a camel can get.

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Still, that hump-back was pretty high up there, I was wondering how she was gonna do it.  Well, you climb.  Just throw your leg up there as high as you can get it, grab the saddle handle thing, and pull/push yourself up.  Definitely not for the less-than-agile.  I was thinking it was gonna take a crane to get me up there and my mouth started feeling a little bit dry……..

Then, the camel started to stand up.  Hind legs first.  REALLY awkward looking, and rough from the expression on the woman’s face as she leaned really far backwards.  Then he got to his front knees.  (Do camels *have* back knees??)  The woman was rocking forwards now, and looked like she was juuuuust about to fall off!  Then, it all sort of leveled out and I thought “she did it!”.  And the handler took off with her.

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Nearby, I noticed an Asian woman was desperately trying to take a photo of her oh-so-cutely dressed little daughter petting a camel, and that little girl was having no part of it.  She was intrigued, but scared.  I remembered a trick that one of the Disney character handlers taught me about how to get a great shot of a scared child with a character….thought I’d try it.

I walked up to the camel, behind the little girl, and started petting it.  She turned around, looked at me, I smiled and said “he’s really nice to pet, would you like to touch him??”  She turned around and looked at her mother, who said “it’s OK!”  And the little girl moved in closer, put out her hand close to mine and touched his fur.  At that time, she started to turn back around and look at her mother giggling, I moved out of the photo, and her mother got a perfect photo of just her daughter touching a camel!  The look of surprise and triumph on that little girl’s face was priceless.

The gent handling one of the camels looked at me and asked “Would you care to ride?”  Oh boy – this is my moment of truth – nerves or courage????

“Sure!”  And he gestured for me to get on the camel.  I had to throw my leg up around shoulder-high to get it over the top of the camel and saddle and pulled/pushed myself on… definitely not one of my more graceful moments.  Thank goodness TBG didn’t get a photo.  And then….. his hind legs went up!  Oh my!!

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I swear I was leaning back as far as I thought I could without falling off.  When my Mama saw this photo, she said “Looked a little bit white-knuckled there, weren’t you, girl?”  Boy, was I!  And, the gent handling the camel was making clicking noises at the camel and pulling on the rope, trying to get it to continue standing up.  Of course it was being stubborn, and here we were…. Half-way up.

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Suddenly, up on its knees!  Now I’m leaning waaaaay forward, hoping to not topple off over the neck of this big critter, hanging on for dear life.  Wow, that other gal’s experience sure looked a whole lot smoother, easier and faster than this!  Oh well, it’s not so bad.

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Then, I realized something.  We weren’t STANDING yet.  How did I realize this?  There was this sudden lurching, this weird, awkward staggering kind of upward movement, and then suddenly, we were moving out towards the desert – away from the resort.  The camel was being led by the handler, I was hanging on for dear life thinking calming thoughts “People have done this before.  Probably small children.  Grab the experience”.   Don’t I look all calm and cool and collected there??  Sheesh.

OK, panicky feelings are over, we’re on a camel, headed out into the desert for a walkabout, and I realize that the handler is speaking.  Something about did I want to know more about the camel?  I said “Certainly!”  in my best non-squeaky-nervous voice.  It was about 10 years old and can walk for miles and miles and miles is about all I can remember, because I’d realized something. I was pretty much doing the “splits” on top of this critter.  It was wide, really wide.  And not well-padded.  So to distract myself and continue on this rolling-gaited trip, I asked the handler if he enjoyed working with camels?  He smiled a crooked smile and said “Yes, Madame, they are very gentle creatures”.  I asked if he’d been here in Dubai long and he answered a year and a half.  I asked if he had family here, he snapped his head around and looked at me with almost a piercing look, and said “No Madame, no family here, they are all back in Egypt”.

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As I was digesting this information, we began the turn to make a journey back to the resort.  I thought we’d been gone about an hour…. It was no where close to that.  But it was surely long enough for me to realize that I’d probably want one of those nice comfy saddle things like on horses….. with stirrups and a seat.

Now, headed back, I’m feeling all confident like I’m some expert camel-rider or something… I even reached down (loosening my death-grip hold on that handle thing) to actually *pet* that camel.  Don’t I look relaxed and like I’m not sitting on one of the tallest mammals on the planet??  Sitting on something higher than TBG’s head??

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This was TBG’s chuckle for the day, I’m sure….. I was thinking “what the heck??” when I found it on my camera,  but then, he has a truly warped sense of humor, you know…… go ahead and roll your eyes in advance……

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I’m glad I got the opportunity to practice my camel-riding skills though.  Just in case I ever find myself in the midst of making a camel caravan journey, you know.  Hey, it could happen!

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Penguins! Penguins Everywhere!

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Penguins-at-Burj

There’s only ONE place in the world where you can actually meet, play with, feed, hug and even smooch a penguin.  Guess where??  Well Dubai, of course!  And in particular, at Ski Dubai, an incredible indoor ski slope built in a shopping mall in the middle of the desert.

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Have I mentioned recently that Dubai is the epitome of “biggest, best, fastest, tallest, most and only”??  Well, it is, and quite often the words “Guinness Book of World Records Holder” are used.  Frankly, I think that the judges for this entity likely have an apartment in Dubai, since they *must* do so much work here!  <grin>

Anyhow, on to the Penguins – Ski Dubai has a program where you can actually get up close and personal with penguins.  You can see all the details here at www.skidubaipenguins.com/home where all the prices and perks are laid out.  I had read about them on a website and TBG told me to pick a date.  Since you had to have a group of 4 or pay for all 4 anyhow, we invited friends from here to join us.  So Tom and Coral met us there.

First, you get all suited up in fat clothes to keep you warm.  (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)  Insulated boots, pants, coat, and gloves.

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Can you tell how excited I was??   Then, you go into a very very very cold area to go play with the penguins and to be cautioned about stuff like…. You can’t take photos, you gotta buy the SkiDubai photos.  No feeding them anything but what the trainers give you.  Stuff like that… They gave us a lot of technical information that you can pretty much google for – but frankly, I was more interested in stuff like “How does eating fish equate to the giant penguin poop splashes (http://youtu.be/4_aX41OJ3yE) on the floor??”  Stuff you can’t google, you know?  But we did learn about their vetting procedure, the fact that there’s a penguin hospital on site, what their vitamin and feeding schedule looks like and such.  It was interesting, but not the main reason I was there.

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But once inside the special fences to keep the riff-raff out that didn’t pay to play, we were treated to penguins.  Real, live, cute-beyond-freekin-belief penguins.  Waddling, head-tilting flipper-flapping penguins, and I was instantly in love.  They were all my very own personal penguin friends at that point, I just knew it.

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We sat on really cold bench things to allow them to walk up to us at first, then we were all able to get down on our knees to get more on their level.  Then, we could touch them and pet them.  OH.MY.GOODNESS was I excited.

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You know how you get something in your mind about how something’s gonna feel, or taste or be like?  In your mind, it’s one way, but you may never know what it’s like in real life.  Well, touching those penguins was EXACTLY like I thought it was gonna be – silky smooth, but slightly stiff, really soft but firm too.  Exactly like I thought.  Well, except for those cute little yellow spots over their ears – those were like… um…. Have you ever touched the middle of a dandelion flower??

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To me, that’s exactly what that yellow velvety part over their ears felt like.  Amazing something so soft could be on a creature designed to survive sub-zero temps and freezing water, you know.  And apparently, it doesn’t affect their hearing one tiny little bit…. well, just a little bit while they’re underwater.  But it keeps their ears protected.

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We played with them with toys, followed them, let them follow us, we fed them, we chased them, let them chase us, caught them, sat with and hugged on them, I was just in love with these little critters!  Oh, and they come to Dubai from San Antonio Texas USA, Sea World, where I have a dear friend that’s an animal trainer – small world, huh??  :::waving at Catherine Brown:::

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The tour guide still had a surprise for us, though, we were gonna get to take home Penguin Art!  I had no idea what it was, but I knew I wanted it.  Have you ever felt that way?  Excited and didn’t know why?  That was exactly how I felt.  But the guide spread non-toxic paint on a sheet of paper, then a clean sheet, and asked Pebbles, one of my new peng-friends if she’d walk in the paint, then on the paper…. and she did!!  Pebbles made Penguin Art for us!!

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At the end of the day, I was exhausted, happy, and grinning from ear-to-ear I think, and TBG had a blast as well.  Was it spendy?  Definitely.  But was it a once-in-a-lifetime experience?  Likely.  I know I’ll never ever forget all my little penguin friends!!

It’s Camelicious!

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TBG always sees camels on the way to work and is telling me about them –  I couldn’t understand why, till he casually mentioned “oh, well, there’s a camel dairy just off the road”.  What??  Why have we not been there yet??  So, here we go!

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Driving up to the entrance of the facility.  I wanted to take photos of the actual road we were on, but there was a group of men sitting alongside the road in the shade, eating and drinking.  It’s not acceptable to take someone’s photo here unless you ask first, so I didn’t get that shot.

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Yup, It’s Camelicious!  Told you.   The official name of this dairy is The Emirates Industry for Camel Milk & Products (EICMP).  Now, just for fun, go right ahead and start singing in your head the song “Fergalicious” by Fergie….. “So delicious (It’s hot, hot) So delicious (I put them boys on rock, rock) So delicious (They want a taste of what I got) I’m Fergalicious (T-t-tasty, tasty)”  OK, anyway, now that that’s stuck in your brain read on!

From this facility, over  3000 camels produce the nutritious milk which the on-site factory processes into multiple products- milk, flavored milk, chocolates and “camelchinos” – frothy coffee beverages.

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This camel dairy farm is owned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, and is one of only two in the UAE and is the largest in the world.  The herds are still under development, with western-style herd tracking, breeding and artificial insemination methods underway, but the Camelicious milk has been on supermarket shelves in the UAE for years.  The UK has just issued the approval for Camelicious milk to be exported there and will be on UK supermarket shelves shortly.  Now, as I understand it, wild camel milk has a very “distinct” flavor as the animals graze on desert brush, and this taste is generally considered undesirable for the masses.  Camelicious camels are “camels of a different kind” though.  They are fed imported alfalfa hay from New Zealand as well as carrots and dates.  This combination sweetens the milk and makes it more consistent and palatable.

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One thing I’ve learned about this facility is that they have a genuine concern for these tempermental critters.  They don’t want them turned into “humped milking machines”.  See, camels do not like to have their schedule disrupted, they normally need their calves present to produce milk, and they’re used to walking  many miles daily.  In order to keep the herds happy and milky, the facility has made adjustments – scheduling is precise, a walking track has been added and the camels spend daily time with their calves.  Happy camels, Camelicious milk!

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I asked TBG why this camel had a red rope between his front feet and he said it was a hobble of sorts.  I asked why all the rest of the camels didn’t have one, and he said “That one must be the leader.  Camels are social critters, they’ll follow one lead camel anywhere, but they like to stay huddled together.  Their body temperatures are lower than the outside temps, so huddling feels cooler to them.”

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This is the “cattle guard” things that I’m used to seeing in the US over roadways at fenceline – though those are made of pipes, and much closer together.  These must be heavier, and further apart for the camels’ bigger feet.

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Oh, and ever wonder how they transport camels from place to place??  LOL… here ya go!!

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