A Journey to Parts Unknown: Abu Dhabi

In late January I returned from the trip of a lifetime. Upon entering the United States I realized just how much this journey meant to me. As a photographer and a traveler, my instinct is to tell a story of how I see the world, the good, bad and ugly. I am not one of those types of travelers who see’s the world through rose colored glasses, instead I see things for how they are and accept the different cultures and ways of life for what it is. This is my journey to parts unknown.

I always knew someday I would visit India. How and when I would go was unknown, but I have been drawn to this mysterious continent for as long as I can remember. A year ago my husband asked me what I wanted to do for my 40th birthday, my answer: “I want to go to India”. Of course that wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, but I knew that this was the year I would get there. Soon after that conversation, my friend Kelly and I were having dinner and I mentioned to her that I was desperate to get to India, and soon. She told me about a retreat her friend Michele was hosting in Kerala, India. This was my “how and when”. I immediately signed up for Michele’s Yoga and Ayurveda retreat. Knowing nothing about Ayurveda and not having done yoga for about 3 years, I started to do some research. The more I learned about this ancient healing practice, the more I realized this trip was meant to be. Kelly and I scoured the internet for ideas on how to make the most of this trip across the world. We came up with a plan to visit Abu Dhabi, then go to the retreat in India and finally a visit to Sri Lanka, which was never on my bucket list!

While in India I did a LOT of soul searching. Last year was probably one of the hardest years of my life. Emotionally, physically, mentally and for other various reasons. I am sure everyone around my age goes through this stage of feeling like they are lost, have no purpose etc.. Well you get where I am going with this. Each day I spent exploring these magical countries I found myself doing a lot of thinking about how I want to tell the world what I have learned. So, what is the result of all this soul searching and exploring? This journal, A Journey to Parts Unknown. The promise I made to myself is to keep writing about my experiences in the world, whether it be somewhere exotic or just in my local neighborhood.

This is the story of Abu Dhabi.

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

After a quick 14 hour flight from JFK to Abu Dhabi, Kelly and I walked off the plane into a land of exotic mystery. As we drove to our hotel, I stared out the window of our taxi in disbelief. Months of planning, excitement and anticipation washed over me as I took in the sights. We had finally started our journey.

I fully expected to have some major jet lag, but waking up the next morning we found ourselves awake and ready to explore. We only had three full days to spend in the UAE, so we wanted to make the most of our stay. We discovered that one of more popular destinations in this city was the mall. Not exactly what we expected, but when in Rome, right? A short walk down the street and we found ourselves in the mall. Nothing special to report on there, it was just as you might expect a mall to be. Am I missing something here? My first impressions of Abu Dhabi were not as I expected, although I am not sure what I did expect to begin with. The streets are very clean and the people seem very international. In fact we commented several times on how we felt like we were in Las Vegas or somewhere in the US. Every once in a while we would see women in the traditional Abaya or men in their Dishdash and Keffiyeh and it would start to sink in that we were not in the States anymore.

Later that afternoon we took a taxi over to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest Mosques in the United Arab Emirates. While we thought we were dressed appropriately to visit this cultural landmark, the authorities thought differently. We were quickly ushered to the basement of the parking lot where we were given a traditional Abaya to wear, this was one of the more unusual experiences of my life. Once appropriately dressed, we entered the mosque with a whole new understanding of the culture we were immersing ourselves in. Quietly, we walked through this monumental structure, taking in all the sights and sounds. The beauty of this place hit me  in the face, and with the call to worship playing over the loudspeaker, I found a whole new respect for this young country. We watched the sunset behind the massive domes and were mesmerized by the colors that came alive against the stark white of the exterior as the sun sank below the horizon.

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

They say that when you are in Abu Dhabi, your visit is not complete without a trip to the Emirates Palace, a hotel in the Corniche area of Abu Dhabi. Kelly and I decided to end our first night with dinner at one of the many restaurants located in the hotel. We walked through the gigantic lobby and passed a vending machine that sells gold bars, of course it was out of order, so I can’t tell you how much it costs to buy gold bars at a hotel in Abu Dhabi, but none the less it was interesting to see this.

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

The next day we decided to get out of the city and go to the desert. Now, I am not a touristy type of person, nor do I like to do group tours, but not really knowing how else to get to the desert, we decided to book a Desert Safari. Probably one of the best decisions we made on that trip. I can’t even begin to explain how thrilling this adventure was. Our safari began with some dune bashing in a 4 wheel drive, this was absolutely terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. Up and down the dunes, almost tipping over, then just when you think you are a goner, you hit the bottom and jet back up. One of the top ten coolest things I have done in my life.

We stopped at a camel farm, where much to my surprise, the camels were just roaming around with no fences or ropes. This is how all farms should be in my opinion. I don’t think I have ever been this close to a camel and after spending some time loving on them and giving them lots of attention I realized how gentle and friendly these giants of the desert are.  After the camel farm it was back in the car for some more sand dune driving with our final stop at an open air Arabian village where we ate dinner, belly danced, got some mendhi, smoked shisha out of a hookah, ending the night with some silent star gazing. It was an amazing day and I have so many fun memories from this trip.

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

In the end, our trip to Abu Dhabi was one we will never forget. My overall view of the UAE is mixed. While I loved our experiences that we had there, I left feeling like I was missing something.  With only three days to see the sights, I think we got a pretty good feel for what there is to see and do. I know there is so much more out there that we didn’t get to experience and I think, given the opportunity, I would go back to see what else this mysterious oasis has to offer.

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Here are a few behind the scenes moments we captured on our phones:

Fine art by Jen Badalamenti

Coming up next, stories from India.

If you have been to Abu Dhabi, I would love to hear about your views and experiences!