My friend was passing through Dubai and asked me show him around, so I took him to the Creek and we got stranded on an abra.
The day did not start right and I should have known that crazier things lay ahead of us. The parking lot at the Abra station was jam-packed so we drove around a bit and then came back and waited with the parking lights flashing, hoping that someone would eventually leave and we could grab that spot.
I had pumped up my friend about the Dubai Creek and how it was made famous by Hollywood movies such as Syriana, while we were waiting for the parking slot. I also told him of the dangerous jobs the sailors have on the many dhows at the Creek that criss-cross the Gulf waters, carrying goods to Iran, Iraq and Somalia.
“How long does it take to get to Iran by boat?” asked my friend who is now an intrepid traveller in his later years.
“Six hours,” I told him. The only reason I knew that was because I had checked that info with a boatsman while we were waiting at the Abra Station.
The Abra Station was packed with tourists and also with regular commuters who cross the Creek to their workplaces. A Bangladeshi boatman cajoled us to hire a small abra, a weather-beaten wooden boat.
“I will take you around the Creek for an hour up to Maktoum Bridge and back for Dh120,” he said.
We agreed and clambered on with our unwieldy SLRs.
Incidentally, no self-respecting tourist goes around the world anymore shooting pictures with tiny cameras with amazing pixel power. It has to be an SLR that weighs a ton and a lens that protrudes out of your tummy like you were an alien giving birth to the ugliest creature this side of the galaxy.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t yet gone on an abra, it is basically a small boat powered by a tiny diesel engine. There’s a raised platform in the middle of the boat and a section, the cockpit, hollowed out in the middle. I am not sure whether the boatsman is supposed to get into that hollowed out section and guide the boat, but our Bangladeshi sat on the platform with us and held on to a stick to guide the wooden rudder.
I later found out that the rudder is connected to the cockpit’s mechanism, by ropes and pulleys. I did not see any life jackets.
The boatsman was more interested in us and where we came from, then in showing us the sights, and as we were shouting and talking to each other over the noise of the irritating engine and screaming seagulls, suddenly everything went quiet.
The abra’s single engine had died and we were left sitting in the middle of the Creek with the waters lapping around the boat. “I don’t know how to swim,” announced my friend at that moment. Only after all these years that I found that he too had nearly drowned in the same municipal pool that I too had nearly drowned in. The pool which of course, had no lifeguard.
My friend’s wife also said she could not swim, and I looked at the murky, green, waters with the occasional plastic shopping bag floating by, and wondered who I would have to save first if anyone of us fell into the water.
I called my wife, who was sitting comfortably at home, to share in our anxiety, and she started panicking even more than us. She too cannot swim.
Finally, a second abra was called and we did a silly, balancing act, holding on to each other, to get into it. I then took my friend and his wife to the Gold Souq to calm their nerves.