Flatirons Men's Trip to Afghanistan Date: Saturday April 21-Sunday April 22 Denver to Washington, DC to Dubai, UAE
Saturday 4/21: It's been a long train coming. Our delayed launch from March 10 seems to have stretched on forever...and left a few of us (Guilty!) wondering whether we'd even get to go to Afghanistan. Needless to say, as we grouped up at the United Airlines counter, the entire team was in great spirits -- knowing we were mere minutes from our long-anticipated journey. Bob Tunnell gave a prayer, we said our goodbyes to our families...and we were finally off! Check in, boarding and departure was a breeze. The team took it as a good sign that the in-flight movie was the latest "Mission:Impossible". The Burj Khalif (the tallest building in the world) plays a large (pun intended) part in one of the action sequences in MI 4: Ghost Protocol, and we were (hopefully) within a few hours of standing at its base. After an early landing in DC, we hoofed it to our gate with time-to-spare before boarding for the long haul across the pond to Dubai.
Saturday 4/21 into Sunday 4/22: This was the part I was worried about the most: the prolonged flight...trying to sleep or rest or whatever you're supposed to do to throw your body clock into Dubai time. Some of us were more successful than others, but on-the-whole, the team faired well...and we landed an hour ahead of schedule. My first dose of reality came as we dropped below the low-hanging storm clouds to land in Dubai. It was like a scene from "Lawrence of Arabia" -- a desert expanse that stretched as far as I could make out. I looked...half expecting to see sheiks riding camels. What I DID see...off...way off...in the horizon was the Burj Khaliff, poking through the clouds like a needle through a dirty sheet.
Sunday 4/22: Is there anything worse than standing in line at customs? Okay...maybe the DMV, but that's about it. We all cleared without a hitch except for our last teammate through the line: John Waters. When he was pulled out of line and taken down another hallway, we all took a deep breath and waited. Within minutes John reappeared...with that ubiquitous wide grin on his face...without a care in the world. No problem. Just a glitch with the passport scanner.
After a quick trip to the hotel (in the nicest, cleanest cab I've ever been in), we were all on the streets of Dubai, heading off on our first excursion: Creek Dubai. Bob had heard good stuff about the riverboat cruises down Creek Dubai and the entire team was in for it! It was good to stand, to stretch, and to walk after the 13 hour flight. The streets around the hotel were quite an eye opener. This section of Dubai looked like a cross between Vegas and Houston...noly more humid. Lots of cement and neon signs and about every Western amenity you could ask for: McDonald's (or McDavid's, either one), Pizza Hut, KFC. We even passed a Cinnabon! And even though it was around 10PM Dubai time...my body was still on lunchtime in Colorado...and a Cinnabon was NOT out of the question.
We soon learned that almost everything shuts down in Dubai around 10PM. Still, we found a little party boat at a dock on Creek Dubai captained by a young Iranian man named Solomon. We knew this area of the world is known for its hospitality and Solomon was a shining example. After getting us off and headed down this...canal (more than a river)...he passed out ice cold Pepsis and gave us (in broken English) a complete guided tour of Creek Dubai, and its history. Even at night, the opulence of this region was glaring. Throughout the high rise office buildings and grand palaces that lined the shoreline there were minarets peppered in, and around, the city. Solomon was a wealth of information; knowing construction dates of buildings ("That building. American Embassy. New one. Built in 2008. President George Bush here. In 2008.") and which country owned which boat ("That boat. Pakistani. Costs 3...4 duram. One hour. No food.") and which sheik owned which expansive palace.
All of us had the same grateful look on our faces -- humbled and grateful and in awe of God...for His blessings...for His creation...and for His children, one of which was this young Iranian who gave us the tour we'll never forget. By the way, Pepsi on an empty stomach, after staying awake for 30 hours straight...will give you a sugar buzz. I'm just saying...
We split two cabs (4 in one, 5 in the other...a VERY tight fit. I now know more about Kyle Hamlin then I ever wanted to know!) and headed for the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalif. Men aren't supposed to want to go to malls, but this one was an exception...and we saw like men are supposed to: when it's closed. The Dubai Mall is HUGE (Surprise). Steve Yeager (who's in the mall biz) said it has over 1,200 stores. Park Meadows Mall has 120. Puts THAT into perspective. The place is monstrous...but more importantly, it had a food court...with a few places still open. We all ate and then made our way outside to the Burj Khalif. Amazing! That's all I can really say. Again, even at night, when everything was closed, this place oozes luxury and opulence...and the Burj is the proverbial icing on the cake. We all wished it was still open so that we could ride to the top, but it wasn't to be. That will have to wait for a later date -- if at all. We were all dragging as we made it back to the hotel. It never felt better to lay down in a bed. I might not have this much to write for the rest of the trip, but if Kabul is anything like the cultural and social overload Dubai has been...who knows.