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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 16: 10 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysWoken from a five-hour sleep by the sound of a telephone at my bedside. Good news and bad news. The good news is that we have secured a dhow to take us to Bombay. The bad news is that it leaves at dawn tomorrow. No time for recovery before a six-day voyage on an open boat. On the other hand the sooner we move on the better. I must not forget that Phileas Fogg, aboard the Mongolia all the way, reached Bombay in eighteen days.

Walk out onto the quayside. My first sight of a dhow. Only nostalgic, crossword-loving Western romantics still call them dhows. To the locals they are 'launches' or 'coastal vessels'. They are wooden, built to a traditional design resembling in shape a slice of melon, with a high stern on which sits the wheelhouse, a draught of 15 or 20 feet, and a length of about 60 feet. There seems to be no shortage of them in Dubai. There are twenty or thirty lined up in this inlet of the river they call The Creek. One is loading crates of 'Tiger's Head' brand flashlights, made in China, 'Coast' full-cream milk powder, boxes of Tide washing powder, 'White Elephant' dry battery cells, Sanyo radios and a twin-tub washing machine. Its destination is Berbera in Somalia.

Every one of the dhows is like a floating small business, and generally run by family and friends, though owned, as likely as not, by some shrewd import-exporter in a stretch Mercedes. They present quite a different dockside ambiance from any I've experienced so far. Instead of cranes and gantries and hard-hats and bulk loads and lorries, operating behind guardposts and fences, the dhows are serviced, right in the centre of town, by small pick-up trucks, trolleys and men's backs. People bustle around, scrambling over the boats like ants, arranging, moving, heaving and hoisting the cargo. The reason for the great activity at the moment is that these are some of the first boats out after the monsoon season from May to August, during which the dhows are laid up because of storms.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 16
  • Date: 10 October
  • Country/sea: United Arab Emirates
  • Place: Dubai
  • Book page no: 62

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