Tag Archives: women traveling solo

Dubai – All that money can buy (Day 2)

In a city that offers all that money can buy, it can be difficult to decide what you want and how to spent the most precious currency that exists: time. But I knew: my first helicopter ride. I will fly above Dubai.


Morning: High in Dubai

Dubai Marina, Dubai, UAE

A breakfast with a view, Dubai Marina view. Not on a terrace, but a bridge. And not a real breakfast actually, but definitely one to remember. The day started like this, with dates milkshake and gazing at the grey curtain of skyscrapers mirroring their shapes in the silver waters where luxury white yachts slid up and down the Marina. Doing this cost me 30 minutes of my second day in Dubai.

12pm

The taxi dropped me in front of Dubai Police Academy, close to Jumeirah beach. A jeep was already for me at the gates, to drive me inside through the security zone. It looked like a highly protected area. I knew by the noise, minutes later, that we’ve reached the starting point: a white helicopter was just landing.

The preparation for the helicopter ride took about an hour, inside the centre, with a session of safety instructions and technical info, including how to get in and off the helicopter when it lands on land or water. After the theoretical part, waiting for my ride and watching other customers coming and going, I observed how the whole thing was happening. I’ve noticed there was also a second helicopter operating, a black one that landed later. That looked so cool, I instantly wished my ride will be with that one. There were 5 seats in a helicopter, so only one seat in front, near the pilot. A kind of VIP seat… No matter the colour of the helicopter, I thought, I just hoped I won’t be sitting on a middle seat….¬†Seeing people leaving and the expressions of thrilled they had when they were landing back was not just fun to watch, but also increasing my impatience.

Finally my turn came. Me and 3 other girls were forming the group. The white helicopter was on the helipad, waiting for the next group. We were waiting in line and I thought that one it’ll be ours… And then I heard the noise. The trees outside started moving. The black one was landing back and the white helicopter just took off. I heard someone from the security telling us to wait in line inside.

– You’re alone so you’ll be sitting in the front, he told me.

These were the words I wanted to hear after paying almost 200$ for a few minutes ride. I was so happy.

The next minute my hair was blowing all over my face as I approached the black and cool helicopter. I took my seat in the front with a smile reaching from one ear to the other, that got even bigger when I laid my eyes on the so very good looking pilot: dark haired, with a short beard, wearing a pilot uniform and a fab smile.

Dubai, helicopter ride

– Hi, welcome! And there we were, all 5, ready to fly up in the sky.

I got the headset on, receiving the last indications from the security stuff as they closed the door. I heard the noise increasing and felt the moment we took off, leaving the ground, going up and up until the cars got smaller and the highway above became a line beneath us. Seen from the sky, the distances didn’t seem so large and the map of Dubai started imprinting on my mind. The Palm and The Atlantis, Dubai Marina, then we turned right and headed towards downtown, where Burj Khalifa was guarding the city from its heart, the middle of the skyscrapers that look tinny compared to the 160 levels sharp structure. It was a clear day with great visibility for this mind-blowing desert city where this is a rare gift.

Dubai, downtown, Burj Khalifa

The views were spectacular. We were communicating through the headset and I was the one asking questions: how close can you get to the downtown and Burj Al Arab – not very unless you have a permit to land there, where was the famous Kite Beach. Then we turned back, flying along the coast line, Jumeirah beach, Kite Beach and then Burj Al Arab, half a circle around the 7th stars hotel passing a little over the legal limit of distance for helicopters that are not landing on its helipad. We saw again the huge The Palm, the man made complex of islands forming the shape of a palm tree, we saw The World, the artificial archipelago of 300 islands laid out in the Persian Golf in the shape of Earth’s continents.

Dubai, The Palm, aerial view

Two more breath takes and we were heading back, getting closer to the helipad, ready to land. I was thrilled! It was worth every scent and choosing Dubai for my first helicopter ride was a great idea for the unique landmarks.

At the end of the ride, as we step out the helicopter, a few cameras jumped in as if we got famous while up there in the air. Then I found out our memories came with a price. I took the cheapest version, 2 photos (only) for 50bucks. It wasn’t allowed to do any photo shooting around the helicopter but of course I got my selfie with the pilot up in the sky ūüėȬ†In Dubai, even memories come with a price.

3pm

Afternoon: Man made miracle  

Another taxi dropped me an hour later in front of Miracle Garden. I wandered among structures of all shapes, from a castle to a plane and cartoon characters, all made of flowers. With 28C, the garden smelled like summer, the January summer in the Golf. This place is another superlative of Dubai: the world’s largest natural flower garden,¬†72K square metres with over 50 million flowers and 250 million plants.

Miracle Garden, Dubai

In the middle of the desert, open for visitors between November and March, before the burning summer temperatures start turning all into dust. My battle here was a classic one for single travellers: obtaining 2-3 decently framed photos that, as an exception, will include myself. An exception because I prefer the photos of beautiful places with no people in the picture, an achievement that in most places takes a lot of patience. But the biggest challenge when traveling alone is people’s natural gift for ruining a photo. Of course, many of my friends are too in this category but at least I can ask nicely for a new try and help with indications. With strangers, that would be rude…. I can talk a whole day about these funny yet annoying fails that happened to me, like for ex. the best panoramic pic of Dubrovnik where my feet were cut off or the one with the RIP Blue Window in Gozo, Malta, (now gone into the see) where the natural monument, the window, the reason of the photo, was cut in half… Still, I never give up and eventually I get the photo I want. And so I did in Miracle Garden, though people were swarming everywhere at that hour.

Miracle Garden, Dubai

 

6pm

Evening: At the top

45 minutes of waiting for a bus that didn’t come change my plans for saving some budget using the public transport. I jumped in a taxi to get right in time in Dubai Mall, for my VIP entrance for At The Top of Burj Khalifa at 7pm. I got the ticket the day before, from an open office I saw in the mall, where people were waiting in line. I thought that must be the place. I almost had a heart attack when I heard the price: almost 100 euro. My credit card was in pain. Only long after I realised IT was a good deal, because most people go to see level 128. My crazy pricey ticket offered priority access and the chance to see Dubai from level no 148.

We were about 5 people in the line: two Russian women, beautiful and very branded, a French couple, both very tall and good looking, him looking more young. And myself, this time dressed for a helicopter ride + a drink in the highest lounge in the world, so nicely. On the other side, for normal tickets line, tens of people were waiting. ¬†We entered through a separate door after they checked our passes, the stuff repeated the check later. ¬†In a hall a long line of people were waiting. We passed by them and went further. It felt nice that VIP status. I very soon realised Burj Khalifa is not just a huge building of 160 floors, there are 160 levels of luxury and the most perfect finishes, the contractor save no penny when it came to materials¬†and designs. It’s spotless from what I’ve seen this entire private property where the only access is through the mall, buying a ticket, or the main entrance if you have a reservation at one of the restaurants inside.

We took two elevators and in seconds we were at level 148. From the moment the doors opened, it is jaw dropping. The lounge is small but cosy, with scattered light, candles and orchid as decorations. The closed balcony that surrounds the place offers views that makes you feel you’re on top of the world.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa, downtown Dubai by night

 

It was getting dark and I think it was the best moment, to see as the blue hour turns into night into millions of lights from the skyscrapers beneath and the multitude of highways and boulevards. What a city, indeed! I had to admit, I was impressed. An ambition made reality but with a good dose of good taste and elegance. I admired the views and I just couldn’t get enough.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa, Dubai city lights

Level 128, crowded and closer to the earth seemed quite ordinary after I finally decided to leave level 148. I didn’t even wanna take many photos. The best part here was that the water fountain, the Dubai Fountain started the show of lights and music and seen from above it looked gorgeous.

Due to the large number of people, the place feels very touristy, compared to the laid back and spoiled mood from the previous level. A souvenir shop covers most of the place, where the price for a box of chocolate gives you ideas that it might be gold, leaving a little room for an interactive floor made of a screen with image of the city above that cracks under people’s feet as they step on it.

I felt overwhelmed enough and I wanted to leave. Hundreds were forming an endless line to the elevators. Oh God, I will sleep here tonight… I thought. But my 100 euro ticket saved me, the VIP guests had priority using another elevator, smaller and faster.¬†Suddenly, adding this too, plus the whole experience, those 100 euro I payed for didn’t hurt any more. I’m glad that just by chance I made the best choice.

9pm

Dubai Fountain was playing the moment I got out the mall. With people filling every single place at the tables around, with waiters from the restaurants running with plates filled with dishes, with crowds gathered around Burj Khalifa lake, the music, the water jets up the sky, the night sky with the moon watching down to us. When the show of water and light stopped, the lake was completely covered with little lights, as a replica of the sky above.

11pm

The day was done, with every minute from morning till night spent so perfectly – Carpe Diem. A summer night mood was filling the city with its warm breeze.¬†In this city of so many worlds where all that money could buy has been build, created and raised from the desert sand, I wished I had more… not money, but time.

Next: Dubai day 3 – sunrise in the desert, Old Town, Jumeirah beach

Bali: swimming with manta rays

What’s marvellous in life is the unexpected, the unplanned that lies behind that magical number 24, the hours defining every day. It can bring the most unbelievable situations and you never know in the morning that by noon it might be the happiest day, or the saddest. I once read this: “Don’t judge a day by a few minutes”. But it’s exactly what we’re doing. And a day to remember can start as crazy as this:

Nusa Penida 

I didn’t wanna look down! Simply the idea made me dizzy. Every muscle was tensed as I was struggling to somehow move forward on that narrow path, a damn combination of steep and sandy, full of roots and stones meant to make it even harder to track. Sharp rocks on the left served as the only support for an endless row of people coming up. On the other side, the ones going down, including myself, had nothing to grab but a very bad line of fence made of thin brunches and separating us from a 200m deep void. This hell’s path destination was… a beach. Not just any beach, Kelingking Beach, one of the most spectacular, instagramable and praised around Bali. Getting there was not a joke and in flip-flops this seemed even more hard core. I was trying to grab anything that looked secure while also staying away of the nasty monkeys. One of them was pulling a woman’s t-shirt and yelling. Sure I like monkeys but I had to much to deal with already. I looked ahead, among the crowd, to search for any hope that the path will eventually get smoother, at one point. Someone coming up dropped the answer to all of us heading down: “You didn’t even started, it gets worse after this part…” Before I even got to process this, I felt my right foot was sliding down, reaching under the fence, the second one followed half way. The sand was moving beneath me and I felt my entire body pulled under the fence, to the edge, with my feet hanging in the air and a sense of terror grabbing my heart like sharp claws…

I instinctively¬†grabbed the fence which was now almost above me and in a fraction I pulled myself out, back on the track. My heart was bumping and my head was starting to process the danger I was in just seconds before. The people around were too busy to observe my ordeal. For me that was more than enough to decide I didn’t care at all about that beach beneath. So adios, Kelinking Beach! Anyway I never understood how some people see Kelingking Beach in a T-Rex shape…

Kelingking Beach, Nusa Penida, Bali

Back on the top, I had to admit the view was truly breathtaking: white waves drawing moving lines, separating the crystal blue of the sea from the sparkling ivory shade of the sand line. A few steps on the left, down there, in one unreachable part, where the waves were violently heating the cliffs, there they were! Black spots swimming around like some ghosts of the seas Рthe manta rays. 5 or 6 of them, and only a void between us. I was then the kid in front of the closed candy shop. 

Kuta, 7am

After the previous day in Nusa Penida and the 1st unsuccessful attempt to get to Manta Point, I decided to skip Seminyak and sipping cocktails on the beach bars all day long for a second try to see the manta rays. Was the last chance before I headed to Ubud and further inland in Bali.

That early morning no taxi was waiting for me in front, to drive me to the jetty. I had to find one. In a place famous for partying all night long, like Kuta is, 7am is rather a time to turn on the other side and continue sleeping. Still, I saw one guy with a scooter close to the entrance gates of the beach and I ran to him. He looked as if he had just fell out of bed that second. It was about time I try the scooter taxi in Bali. The next second we were running on the large street in Denpasar, among cars and tens of other scooters. It was fun and wild as long as I ignored all the thoughts about falling over with that taxi. He was very talkative and nice and this helped a lot. He was very interested in one specific subject: if in my country sex before marriage was allowed.

In 15 minutes he dropped me to Sanur and promised to wait for me there at 5 o’clock, and go to Uluwatu where I was hoping to see the fire dance, a traditional Balinese show.

Nusa Penida again

Since this was not my 1st day here and I already started to know the prices in Bali, this time I negotiated hard. I was still new into this skill but the more I did it, the more I liked it. It took a while until I finally got a scooter taxi, one of the few left in front of the jetty after everybody have left. He was a bit older then the majority of the other guys and less pushy. He finally accepted my price as a compromise.

I had a pleasant deja-vu while running again, in the back of the scooter, on the narrow dusty streets of Nusa Penida, among villages, Balinese temples, small warung, (local places serving food). The first stop was Kelinking Beach, which I have missed the day before and in spite my fear of height at that moment, it was unbelievable. There is so much more about Nusa Penida and are so many places to see there which I found out about only after I left. All those, including the Kelinking Beach down there, are my so many reasons to go back to Bali.

But the reason I was there again were the manta rays. It was high season for that, so perfect timing. My guy drove me after again to Chrystal Bay, like the day before. I tried again to find a boat and again the only price I got was too high. No groups at that hour. I was disappointed, angry, hungry (I had nothing to eat yet that day) and above all the weather was bad, it was cloudy, looking as if was going to start raining any second. But what was the most annoying was my scooter driver. It seemed to me as if he didn’t give a damn, though he saw how much I was struggling to find a solution and how much I was trying. I presumed his attitude was because of the price I offered him, which was not cheap at all but rather more fair and not one for silly tourists. We finally left Chrystal Bay and on the way back to the jetty, I presumed, I was thinking only about how I missed this opportunity by not even trying. None of us was saying anything. I saw the shore in the front and the boats and my guess was confirmed: he was actually taking me back to the jetty, more then 2h before the scheduled boat back to Bali. Great! What a wasted day! I was so angry with him and the situation. Of course, he wanted to get rid of me to get another customer that day…. I was thinking to a 3rd day in Nusa Penida, the next day, but that meant less time in Ubud and the rest… so not a good idea.

I was surprised when he turned on the left…. I still didn’t say anything to him. We stopped on a beach nearby, with a few wooden cottages in the back where people were selling different stuff.

– Let’s try here too… he said.

When I saw 2-3 of them were selling tours, I saw a ray of light. He took me straight to a lady he knew here. Briefly, the only option to go for an hour to Manta Point was to get a boat by myself. The price, 50$. With a group in the morning was 20$, some told me even 10$. She also mentioned that on that hour and weather the chances are low and that even in the good mornings some people have barely saw one manta ray for a few seconds. I was willing to give it a try anyway. While we were talking, a guy came. He wanted some information for the next days, he was staying in Nusa Penida. I jumped in and told him if he wants, I can share the boat whit him that day too. I was hoping to share the price, of course. He answered without even looking at me that no, he was tired, he planned to do this early, the next morning. He listened after a bit to what I was talking to the lady about the price and I felt there might be a chance he changed his mind. I said, this time without the smile, just looking over my shoulder for a sec:

– It’s 25$ in case you decide to come, I go alone now anyway….shall we go? I turned to the guy with the boat.

And, the grumpy guy finally decides to come too! He really wanted to do it and he decided to try twice, in two days. I was more then happy to hear it, but I stayed cool as ice.

In a few minutes I was in a boat with 6 Spanish guys, the grumpy guy and 5 others we had to drop in Lembongan and the men with the boat. I understood from what they were talking that the grumpy guy almost got arrested for marijuana possession. Laws in Indonesia are very strict when it comes to all sort of drugs and he got away only by paying a huge fine.

After Lembongan all that was left for the 3 of us was to get to Manta Point…. The sky was dark, it was a bit windy and the sea was wavy. The air was salted and I felt cold. I had 0 envy to get into water that day. What was I thinking…. and besides all these, it was 3pm and I was truly hungry. I had all these thoughts in my mind when the boat slowed down close to a golf where I could see another boat. We headed a little further, straight to the shore which was actually a 2m perfectly straight wall, covered in moss, where the lever of the sea was growing and decreasing as the currents were moving. One turquoise spot further signalled a place with sand beneath. All the rest was dark deep blue. But there I was the first black shadow passing by, a few meters away from the wall. Then another one, and another one. The mantas were there!

Nusa Penida, Bali

– Here they are, you are lucky! Go, jump in….! The guy with the boat said.

I looked at the grumpy guy. He, like me, was analysing the place. I was afraid and so was he. The currents seen very strong there and though I am a decent to good swimmer, I didn’t know I could swim there without being smashed to the wall by the current.

Nusa Penida, Bali

We were asked if we want life jackets and fins. The grumpy guy took fins, I didn’t took anything. I was thinking that maybe I should just watch from the boat….The only thing that made me jump it was the insistence of our guide who assured us it was ok and the water was not cold.

And with my heart beating hard and quite terrified, I started one of the best experiences I was given to live: swimming with the manta rays. Nothing can describe the feeling. After minutes when I couldn’t get by breath to a regular level because of the effort to swim there, I finally got my balance and though it was maybe one of the roughest places to swim, I did it for almost an hour. An hour when the mantas came back and forth, centimetres away from me, approaching with they mouths opened, as they were feeding on the plankton, and right in the last second before the impact, they gracefully turned under me as all I could see then was black. They were huge and impressive and such gorgeous creatures. I knew it is forbidden to touch them but one of them touched me slowly while passing by. I was almost floating, making no moves so they feel safe and swim among us, enjoying their meal. We were lucky to be the only boat around for most of the time. After another one came but still we were about 5 people in the water, swimming with the mantas and practically just waiting for each of them to pass by us.

Swimming with manta rays in Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

At one point the grumpy guy asked for a life jacket and asked me if I need one too.

– huhhh…It’s hard swimming here…. I said I was ok and prefer swim freely. I guess this was the moment when he finally started to see me with different eyes because after that se kept call me “sister” and we became friends. After all, we shared a magic moment together and our eyes were shining.

Swimming with manta rays in Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

Our guide took us photos and was in charge with filming with my camera. I was the last to get back on the boat, after taking one last look to the black beauties in the water. Only this time I needed help, my body was so tired and my muscles ware not responding to my commands, I barely managed to bet on the first step and Jonas pulled me up in the boat.

We left leaving the mantas to continue their feast. We all 3 made a cry of joy as we left. We really did it and according to our guide this was a rare moment where there were no boats around and so many mantas in the same place, swimming around. I already know that nature offers moments like this only when she wants so. But when they happen, magic happen.

Swimming with manta rays in Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

As we arrived back to were we started, the lady and my scooter driver came running toward us to the boat as if they knew we had great news! I jumped on the beach and run to hug the lady and then to my driver to whom I didn’t have words good enough to thank him.

The last to hug was Jonas. He gave me his number, (he had no social media accounts), and a few weeks after I send him the photos and videos with us and the mantas. He asked me how I was doing and ended with “Thank you, sister!”

My day was not over. After water, fire was following. When back in Sanur, my scooter driver in Bali was waiting for me and for about 45 minutes we drove 60/h, on the back of its scooter, to Uluwatu temple. I still thank God I have survived that race but since I am alive I can say I am grateful for that adrenaline dose.

We arrived late in Uluwatu and find our way among the monkeys in the park, these ones were big and more aggressive then the ones in Nusa Penida. Dancers in colourful costumes were lighting the night and sparks were reaching high in the air. The cowed was as hypnotised in front of this dance with fire as the main performer. Far in the horizon, the black shape of the Uluwatu temple was splitting the red sky in two. The sunset was over, the night was gaining.

After another crazy hour drive, among cars and now hundreds of scooters, we arrived back to Kuta. I changed some money, I avoided being scammed at the money exchange with a classic trick in Bali and I finally had some food for that day, in a place recommended by my driver, Bamboo Corner. And so I was introduced to my first chicken satay with peanut sauce and gado-gado. It was so delicious and so spicy and I still dream about going back to that place and order the same thing 3 days in a row. And the price… around 5 euro, two meals + beer.

I soo love Bali!

Next: Ubud, Bali