I don’t believe it! An Emirati immigration officer smiling? No. I must be dreaming. But sure enough – not one, but TWO of them being nice to their ‘customers’ and going out of their way to be helpful.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when the values they have held dear for so long no longer seem to apply and they feel cast out onto a sea of uncertainty as they struggle to come to terms with the new reality. Today was one of those days for me.
Roll back a couple of hours and as the sun rose to proclaim another day, whilst the birds choked on the fumes of Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road, BS set out on his first visa run to make him legal for the next month. I had lost my residency visa, being now “between jobs”, and the rules state that visitors – which I had now officially become - can stay in this self-styled paradise on earth for a maximum of 30 days. To stay longer, you cannot. You have to leave the country and then come back in again. And so it is that the well practised visa-run is a part of daily life at the UAE’s borders.
It being a Friday, the roads were pretty empty, save for the last hangers-on from the previous night’s National Day celebrations. (I always wonder what it is these Emiratis think they have to celebrate - but enough of that. Just don’t get me started!)
I drove over to Al Nahda to pick up Alison, who had volunteered to come for the trip; and was mighty glad to have her there, she having performed this little celebration on a number of occasions. I, on the other hand, was a visa-run-virgin.
It being just over 100 clicks to the border with Oman, we took it nice and easy, stopping for a fill up of go-go juice and a coffee in a garage near Al Madam. It was Nescafe; but it was hot and wet – about all you could say for it really.
And so approaching 1030 we arrived at the border post just beyond Hatta. We parked the car and walked over to the somewhat permanent temporary building that made do as an immigration office.
Grab, snarl, plonk, throw back – yes, the immigration officer lived up to the reputation of his colleagues at Dubai Airport as he cancelled the visitors’ visa in my passport. Alison had queued in front of another window with ‘Fines’ scrawled across it. But she too got her passport plonked and we walked back to the car.
Now logic dictated that if we had officially now left the country, as witnessed by our passports, in theory we could simply cross to the other side of the road and reverse the process. No way, advised Alison. We actually have to go into Oman… don’t we? But who would know, quoth I. And being adventurous, we decided to try our luck.
We made a u-turn in the shingle that lay between the two carriageways and parked outside the Enter UAE office before entering to witness the smiling Emirati border guards. Two ladies, decked out in black abayas with henna on their hands.
No, no; one of them told me as she rummaged through my passport for an Omani stamp. You actually have to go into Oman before you can re-enter the UAE! She had obviously been through this routine many times before; but she was so good natured that we couldn’t protest. Being the type who acknowledges the superior wisdom of a fellow human being, I begrudgingly told Alison I should have listened to her in the first place!
We set off down the road. First to the Omani customs post. True to their reputation the Omanis wished us good day, smiled at us, told us not to worry about opening the boot of the car and wished us a pleasant trip. We were given the obligatory piece of paper we would have to get stamped and handed back when we left borderland. We travelled on for a few kilometres until we got to the Omani immigration post. Not some old Nissan hut as found on the Emirati side. This is a sumptuous immigration palace with ample car parking, advertisements that told us ‘Beauty has an address… in Oman’ and smiling Omani guards who say good morning to us as we enter the building.
As I stood in line for the immigration officer, Alison went to try out the plumbing. But what was this? The price of an Omani visa has just recently increased by over 300 percent! For the privilege of spending about half an hour on Omani soil I was being asked to shell out 200 dirhams – or some US$55. But Mr Immigration officer kept on smiling and I manfully dived into my wallet and handed over the necessary bank notes. Kerching!
Alison came back from the plumbing and we decided that she could get in the coffee whilst I would drive round the block and get the car paperwork sorted out. So, off I drove – another kilometre to the exit sentry who could see a visa-run person a mile off. No need to go any further, he said; just do a u-turn here; which I did. And queued up to buy a car exit pass from another Omani post. 20 dirhams…kerching!
At the next border post I was advised that I needn’t have bought a new exit pass as I had not needed to give up my first pass; I could have used that instead. But have a nice day, he added as an afterthought.
I met up with Alison again, who was doing an excellent job of stopping my coffee from evaporating, and we supped on the precious liquid whilst looking around the immigration palace. Not just a coffee shop, but they even had a Pizza Hut Express outlet there as well. Enterprising these Omanis!
All good things must come to an end; so with tears in our eyes we set off once again on the 9kms trek to the UAE border post and parked outside the Enter UAE office, there to be greeted once again by one of the smiling ladies. ‘Did you have a nice time in Oman’? I half expected her to ask me as she inspected my passport for what passed as an Omani entry stamp (difficult to find as the ink had nearly dried up on the Omani officer’s pad).
And off we set, handing over the slip of paper to yet another bored border guard as we drove back into the UAE, once again legal.
It still being early in the day, we decided to go back via a circuitous route to Fujairah, stopping for lunch at the Hilton resort; and then on a special detour to show Alison one of my favourite roundabouts - just outside the ‘International Airport’: an eagle that looks like it is high on LSD doing an amazingly good impression of a bunny caught in the headlights of a passing Antonov.
On the way back to Dubai we continued to search for that all illusive cup of decent coffee – and thought we had succeeded when we discovered an outlet called the Mandarin Cafeteria situated right beside a garage.
Look closely at the photo above…. You see it. Yes! Segafredo coffee!
You have to be eagle eyed to notice such things (though not a Fujairah Airport eagle, of course) and we traipsed inside. But alas. المشكلة مع آلة القهوة Problem with the coffee machine. Sorry. We have Nescafe though, as if this was the answer to all life’s ills.
We steered clear of the Nescafe and drove on to Alison’s pad, there to sup real coffee from a plunger, accompanied by a Namibian beer as a chaser.
So now I am free to stay in this demi-paradise for another 30 days. Lucky me. But next time I will be flying out from Dubai Airport once again, there to experience – almost without doubt – some of the rudest and most condescending immigration officers I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. Of course, I might strike lucky, but if past experience is anything to go by, I think that is highly unlikely.