I had the distinct pleasure and good fortune to be invited by Emirates airline to the gleaming desert jewel known as Dubai.
This has become South Africa’s playground, where the rich and their financially blessed beneficiaries visit for the around-the-clock nightlife.
Dubai presents the perfect opportunity to show out on social media with a couple of selfies that not everybody can recreate.
The borders between Dubai and South Africa have opened, but, due to Covid-19, there are some safety measures to adhere to while travelling to this glorious city in the United Arab Emirates.
I attempted to emulate some of our more famous visitors to Dubai by recapturing some of the moments they have displayed on social media, while losing myself in a city that truly feeds the inner hedonist.
Dubai is synonymous with ballers, rich oil sheikhs and businesspeople living in a city that looks futuristic and, in the old town, almost ancient.
My journey begins at the crack of dawn on February 25 with a chauffeur ride to the airport, provided by the stellar Emirates airline.
The discomfort of an early awakening is eased by the soft leather seats in the back of the Mercedes-Benz. We’re doing things business-class style.
Even before boarding, my throat is well and truly open to the abundance of Moët & Chandon Champagne in the classy lounge. After a few more glasses of champagne on board in the luxurious cabin, I’m served food as tasty as that at any eatery I’ve been to.
Eight hours later, I awake to a sea of lights outside my window and excitement builds in my belly.
Business-class ticket: R31 148
PERUSING THE BUSINESS PLAZA
In the back of a black BMW, I’m shipped to the V Hotel Dubai, Curio Collection by Hilton, in the new Al Habtoor City – named after its chief investor, local mogul Mohammed Khalaf Al Habtoor – at the new business harbour near the centre of the city, inaugurated in 2016.
The building is so tall that my ears pop as the lift reaches my floor. The interior is predominantly white with a futuristic set-up driven home by the accent lighting, the bath that isn’t attached to a wall and a bed that looks a little like it’s levitating.
As welcoming as my room is, I drop my bags and instantly take to the blocks. I walked for what must’ve been two hours and all I covered was the circumference of the luxurious marina promenade.
Granted, I was not looking to get lost, as the complex is massive – a multimillion-dollar project with five-star hotels, three luxurious residential towers and a vast array of nightclubs and cafés.
Formerly known as the Habtoor Palace Complex, the man-made Dubai Water Canal acts as the centrepiece while young folks on a yacht dash by, screaming and shouting happily.
Back at the hotel, I’m tempted to hit the hay, but just to the left of the atrium is a nightclub called Boa.
Naturally, I have to investigate and my umqhele gets me past my fellow African brother at the door, for free – entrance is usually 150 dirhams (R642.72). I take a seat on a couch in a large glass lift.
The nightclub is booming and overflowing with gorgeous wealthy people, and the view of the city from the balcony is stupefying.
I take a moment to ponder the joys of life as I order the first drink that would lead to a bill that came as a shock to me and my bank. A beer at this establishment was close to R300, but, when in Rome, ball hard.
I partied for a few glorious hours after running into some South Africans who had emigrated to work there in the finance sector.
A MORNING DUNE DRIVE
The following morning, I’m off to have a little fun in the sun on the iconic dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
The drive out of the city is half an hour long and, once we get there, the 4x4 must have some of the air let out the tyres for a better ride on the dunes. My driver then whizzes off into the reserve while blasting The Root by Sandstorm, an up-tempo rave song that was quite fitting.
The dunes are a sprawling 225km² expanse of desolate beauty that captivates and inspires me as the scenery zooms past my window.
My driver puts on a pair of sleek shades to go along with the rave, and begins to really throw the car into turns and over the dunes before we stop for a photo opportunity.
My attempts at capturing the perfect dune shot were foiled by the wind, leaving me looking far less glamorous than the likes of actress Thulisile Phongolo.
We arrive at a tented oasis in the middle of this nothingness.
It looks a lot like the mental imagery I had from stories like Aladdin or the Prince of Persia. We are offered a choice of activities to do on the dunes before a little camel meat for lunch.
Sandboarding is a must and, even though it was a little too windy to stand on the board, coming down a major dune that fast is beyond memorable.
Life in the desert wouldn’t be complete without a ride on a camel, which is yet another must on the list of Dubai selfies to have.
Dune drive: R868.65
THE PALAZZO VERSACE
I’m dropped off by my driver from Arabian Adventures, which has been handling all my stops on this journey, in front of a monolithic structure known as the Palazzo Versace Dubai hotel at Jaddaf Waterfront.
I’ll be having dinner at Q’s Bar and Lounge, Quincy Jones’ eatery and blues room. This establishment was voted the best live music bar in Dubai.
On stage in a room with that feel of the old guard of music is a band with an energetic frontman singing a few nifty covers. A quiet decadence with a wisp of mystery lingers in the room, almost as if Bab’ Quincy has a device that emits some of his aura should he not be around.
The well-dressed individuals in the club are sitting and bobbing their heads to what I thought was a rather groovy set.
I enjoy a seafood platter and a few drinks, allowing the room to unwind a bit, but nothing. The band is losing steam and the drinks have me feeling like I need to drop at least one vosho in Dubai. One then turns to three with a suave transition to a Durban kwasa.
I look around and there are people transfixed and slowly fighting the urge to sit.
It eventually got so litty that I needed to take some air on a Versace sofa like Pusha T raps about, just to breathe a bit. In the halls of the palace are seating areas and, of course, a store.
A gentleman fits me with a pair of Medusa lenses while I act very accustomed to wearing R20 000 frames.
I’m joined by the club’s manager, Abdel Mahrouz, who tells me he can’t wait to see more South Africans visit.
“You are always most welcome here; we put a lot into the sound quality you experience, as well as our food. Please spread the word,” he excitedly says before rushing back to tend to the business of the nightlife.
The lead singer of the band happened to be a fairly famous guy, Rogelio Douglas Jr, who’s been in productions such as Straight Outta Compton, Ray Donovan and Orange is the New Black.
“Thanks for your energy, Bro, we appreciated that. I can’t wait to head down to South Africa to take more of that in. Maybe get a performance in, too; that would be amazing,” he explains, wiping some sweat from his brow.
The most awe-inspiring part of this trip happened at the hotel’s theatre, also located in the lobby, on my last night in Dubai. An odyssey of stunts performed on bikes – in water – and trapeze artists collide on stage in La Perle by Dragone.
This permanent show is housed in a 1 300-seater, high-tech aqua theatre. The middle of the stage is a large pool that fills up and even overflows, filling the stage floor, only to be drained, leaving the surface completely dry.
Performers would dive in from a height of 25m to 30m off a trampoline fitted to one of the wall panels in the theatre, which dropped down like a drawbridge, at which point performers would do flips from the trampoline into the pool.
What really tripped me out is that some of them didn’t come back up and out as they traditionally would.
The show’s creator, Franco Dragone, was inspired by the city and the flavours of Arabia when collaborating with these 65 performing artists to create a whirlwind experience of acrobatics, death defying stunts and acting.
Tickets range from R620 to R2 414
There is all that and so much more fun to be had in this metropolis of an oasis. Emirates has a few guidelines as to how it is going about ensuring your safety while travelling.
To help keep everyone safe, travellers need to produce a Covid-19 test certificate before departure.
As an added benefit to you, Emirates is offering free cover for your Covid-19 health and quarantine costs – when you book a flight with them, you automatically get this cover.
Remember to check your country’s departure requirements before your leave, to ensure you have everything you need to board your flight.
AT THE AIRPORT
On arrival, you’ll need to wear your mask at all times. You’ll be reassured to see that strict safety and disinfection measures have been implemented at the airport and on your flight.
All passengers must complete a health declaration form and give it to the staff at check-in.
ON THE FLIGHT
For peace of mind, all passengers will receive complimentary hygiene kits containing masks, gloves, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes before boarding.
For the health and safety of all passengers, Emirates’ aircraft have been fitted with advanced filters to remove 99.97% of viruses, germs and allergens in the cabins.
On-board dining has returned, and strict hygiene protocols are followed while handling the food.
.Phumlani S Langa’s trip was sponsored by Emirates Airline. Visit emirates.com