Mention Dubai in the U.S., and you're likely to get a blank stare. It's a city halfway around the world--literally. But European tourists, especially those with Porsche Cayennes, will give you a different reaction; Dubai is home to one of the biggest desert off-road races in the world.
When they step off the plane, most visitors are reminded of Las Vegas--the Middle Eastern city is full of theme parks, luxurious hotels (including the world's only seven-star hotel), extravagant shopping malls, and construction, left, right, and center.
Dubai is as far removed from one's image of the Middle East as is possible. There are SUVs galore on the wide freeways, including a liberal sprinkling of Range Rovers and Mercedes-Benz models. Luxury cars abound. This is obviously a place of wealth. What's more, it doesn't derive a majority of its income from oil. And, unlike what you'd expect, Dubai predicts that its oil will run out within a decade. Dubai relies on tourism more than anything. With sunshine and 100-degree weather almost year 'round, it's becoming a veritable Disneyland for millions of sun-seekers and shoppers from cold, damp northern European countries.
We were in Dubai to cover the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge. United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven small states (emirates), situated on the Persian Gulf across the water from Iran and bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman. Dubai is the second-largest emirate.
Until 1971, the British ruled the area, and that influence can been seen everywhere. Dubai uses the square three-pin electric sockets found in Britain and in many of Britain's former colonies. The people don't drive on the left side of the road, but nearly every sign is in English as well as Arabic. While fuel is measured in gallons, the similarity ends there--most gas stations have small mosques beside them for traveling Muslims (who must pray five times a day).
Despite tremendous cultural differences, everyone seems to get along well: Dubai is full of ex-pats from Britain, India, and many African countries. Walk through a shopping mall or stroll the beaches, and you'll feel as though you're in Europe or the United States.