Forty-eight degrees Celsius. You'd think I would have become accustomed to the scorching Abu Dhabi heat after 16 years, but it hits me every time I arrive after a summer away.
A dose of luxury in Abu Dhabi - then on to Africa
Forty-eight degrees Celsius. You would think that I would have become somewhat accustomed to the scorching Abu Dhabi heat after 16 years, but it hits me every time I arrive after a summer away. Every resident reading this is familiar with the moment I'm referring to. Stepping off the plane, a sheet of hot, humid air instantly engulfs your body and begins to suffocate your breathing. Your glasses steam up and your mobile phone screen joins in shortly afterwards. Just as tiny droplets of condensation start forming on your brow and upper lip, you reach the terminal building and you're back in a cool air-conditioned 15°Celsius - back in the real UAE.
It had been the first time in about 11 long-haul flights where someone had been at the arrivals hall to receive me. "You look well, and normal," said my dad. He sounded surprised. Perhaps it was because the two other 18-year-old boys - my brother and his friend - I'd arrived home with looked so ridiculous: one was wearing close to nothing but a red silk dragon-print robe, which got him strange looks at immigration. The other was sporting a South Korean boyband ginger hairstyle that defied all laws of gravity and nature - unflattering but ultra-trendy (well, mostly in South Korea). Maybe I was also expected to look "influenced", considering the number of cultures I had crossed paths with recently.
In the few days of my stopover in Abu Dhabi, the reaction I received from most people I hadn't seen in a while was one of surprise that I didn't look worn-out and exhausted. I felt quite the opposite; I was on an unexplainable high, itching to get to the next destination on my round-the-world itinerary. The drive back to Khalidiya was somewhat of a sensory overload. Sitting behind the wheel of my old Jeep and reversing out of the car park was a challenge in itself; I hadn't driven for months. Everything struck me as clean, bright and big. I hadn't realised just how much I would enjoy the small luxuries home offered until I stepped into my shower. I must have stayed in there for at least 30 minutes, comforted by the fact that the hot water wouldn't run out, no other travellers were waiting to use the shower, and my clothes and belongings would still be in the room when I returned. This wasn't a hostel - this was home.
In my journal that night, I jotted down the things that I had found the most welcoming or strange since my arrival. From what I can make out from my scribbles,the list includes traffic lights, road signs in English, kitchen, kettle, cupboard, clothes hangers, fruit, fresh orange juice, fresh bedding, wholemeal bread, radio and hand towels. A few minutes later, I drifted into a deep sleep, with no alarm clock set and no reason to wake up until my body felt like it.
My three-day stopover in Abu Dhabi was pre-planned as a good time to touch base, wash some clothes, enjoy some home comforts and pick up my friend Razan, who would be climbing Kilimanjaro with me in five days' time. My excitement went into overdrive and I splashed out on plenty of new outdoor trekking and camping gear. The excitement (or my imaginatively high bank balance) didn't last more than a day. With more high-speed internet access than I'd had all season, I began to Google "Kilimanjaro climb dangers", became increasingly nervous and felt unprepared. Was my training with a backpack up and down hostel staircases enough? What about extreme altitude sickness? Sub-zero nights in a tent? Ten-hour treks up steep inclines? It was time to unpack the flip-flops and mosquito nets and start packing thermal underwear and hiking poles. What on earth had I signed up for? The hardest part of my journey was about to begin. And travel insurance only covered me for the first 4,900 metres of the climb. Uh-oh.
I paid a visit to colleagues in my old office, a gentle reminder to myself that travelling wasn't my lifestyle; I had a job to return to in about five weeks. It was the first time I acknowledged my round-the-world adventures had an end date, so it was time to make the most of it, nerves and a 5,790-metre trek aside. When we boarded our flight to Dar Es Salaam (return flights from Dubai on Emirates cost from Dh3,085, including taxes; www.emirates.com), a flight attendant spotted walking poles jutting out of our rucksacks. "You're climbing Kili? Good luck! It's tough you know. People die on that mountain all the time." Razan and I exchanged nervous laughter and the flight attended admitted he was pulling our leg, warned us it was tough and insisted we enjoy ourselves. He had reached the summit last year and described the experience as nothing short of incredible.
We landed beside a tiny terminal building at Dar Es Salaam and joined an hour-long queue for a visa. A stamp and US$30 (Dh110) later, we collected our backpacks, walked through arrivals and got lost in the crowd, looking for local transport to get us to our accommodation. This was more like the airport arrival I have become accustomed to over the past few months. I was back where I had now become most comfortable, back on the road.
Next week: Ismat tackles Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, her next around-the-world adventure.