Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Day at the Races

Drove from Dubai to Abu Dhabi today (about 130kms) to catch a glimpse of the Red Bull Air Race. I had always found it fascinating watching these guys fly around on tele and when I heard they were bringing the flying circus to the UAE, I was really keen to see them.

And I wasnt disappointed with the planes being deceptively quick, the course being tighter than I imagined it would be and a number of wings slicing through the air gates! Also, one pilot nearly lost it when he came out of one tight bend and his nose dipped down low and everyone thought he was going to crash!

Also, it was good to see an Aussie in the field of 15 pilots and he finished qualifying a credible 5th in just his first race. The commentators were saying he has only logged 15hrs flying time before the event so to finish 5th was a sensation. He had a nice gold plane with the Aussie flag on the wings, so it was good to cheer him on.

The event was run at Abu Dhabi's "Corniche" which is the back end of Abu Dhabi and is the main tourist strip. There is a strip of water between the Abu Dhabi island (its a city on a big island) and a smaller island which keeps the water smooth and flat. On the small island side was all the VIP hospitality but the public was on the Corniche side.

Now, a funny thing... it was Friday today and the Holy day of the week for Muslims. The beach on the Corniche apparently is always a "Families Only" zone on a Friday and I was stopped when trying to get to the beach to watch the races because I was a single man.

There was a "single man's" beach down the road but when I walked there, it was past the race course and the viewing would be crap.

I wandered back the way I came and tried to get in a smaller side gate but was again stopped. I was about to give up... I could hear the engines but couldnt see anything as trees blocked the view and I walked back towards the main gate to get a drink and ponder my situation.

At the gate, a British guy was having a stand up argument with the security guard about why he and his 14yr old son (who was a tall gangly boy but was by no means a small child) and the guard was adamant that they couldnt get in because "no wife!"

The Brit was yelling and spittle was flying and he was saying his wife was on holiday in Australia and that this was ridiculous. "My son is my family!" he was saying and he had a point in my mind....

Then as I watched the guard said something and the Brit stopped yelling, said something quiet back and there was some money exchanged... and he was ushered in.

Mmmmm..... OK I thought. I gave it 5mins and then approached the same guard. I tried to go in and he stopped me. He explained that it was families only and I in return explained my family was back home in Australia and I was alone and wanted to simply watch the planes. I flashed the photo of Niki and the girls in my wallet and he simply said "Five Dirham". I slipped him the cash and I too was ushered in.

I understand that they Muslim culture is modest about female clothing and once on the beach there was everything from families through to groups of young adults and every girl seemed to be wearing a bikini. I can understand there rule when you consider that outside there was a swarm of Indian, Pakistani and Afghan men trying to get in... but on the other hand it did seem ridiculous to host an event and have the beaches on the course blocked to men without families.

But once on the beach, I was fine... the beach itself is nothing like a Sydney beach. The sand is the fine dusty sand and there was alot of rocks as well and the ground in places was hard so even though I was on the beach, the thongs stayed on.

Here's a video of one of the flyers... he clips a gate which you briefly see falling. Bloody hard to video and keep him in shot. Also note the dual language commentary being blasted over the speakers!

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