Sunday, 30 March 2008

The Booze Run

Here in Dubai, there is no alcohol for sale in any of the super/hypermarkets nor in many of the restaurants. If you want to buy an alcoholic drink with your meal, you need to dine at one of the international hotels, which stock alcohol by the bucketload – with prices to match.

Non-muslims can, however, apply for an alcohol licence, which allows you to both have alcohol in your house and to buy booze from the local stockists (phone 800-BOOZE locally for details!!). Anyway, our application form for alcohol has to be stamped by Tim’s company. I have the paperwork here but I keep forgetting to process it! One of the major alcohol chains out here is called “A & E”. I always have a chuckle at the title, but it really stands for African & Eastern. In the background of this photo, you can just about see the lorry with “Thirsty?” written on the side – that is the A&E truck!

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The A&E shops here are really funny – it took me ages to find one. They’re always accessed by a side door, well away from the rest of the shops in the centre. It looks a little like a porn shop – literally one grey door “in” and one grey door “out” with no window displays or advertising. Terribly amusing! Prices are high – an average bottle of wine is likely to cost about £7, with 30% in tax added on top. It makes it a pricey glass of wine – certainly not for sloshing into casseroles! There are two ways around this – one perfectly legal, the other not.

The first is to bring in duty free from the airport – you are allowed on arrival at Dubai to buy varying quantities of alcohol, up to about 4 bottles of wine per adult or 2 bottles of wine and case of beer . . . . we brought a pile in when we arrived, so we do have a bottle of scotch, gin and pimms here in the house. When my friend Janine came, she also used her allowance and brought in 2 bottles of wine and a case of beer, which was much appreciated. Anyone care to visit???

The other way is to do the “booze run” as it is commonly known. In one of the northern emirates, Umm Al Quwain, there is a shop called Barracuda, which is located right in the middle of nowhere next to a water park. We happened to visit the water park with friends and had a really good time. Loads of fun rides for the clip_image004children to do – and quite a few for the grown-up daredevils too. Ella turned into a water-park demon – she LOVED it and went down quite a few of the faster rides with Tim. Oliver was quaking in his swim-shorts and went down the little chutes instead.

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The reason why it’s illegal to go to the booze shop next to the park is that in order to get back from Umm Al Quwain, you have to drive through Sharjah to get back to Dubai (Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain and Dubai are three of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates) and the really fun part about Sharjah is that it is completely dry – even possession of alcohol is illegal in this emirate. The booze shop is amazing – two massive rooms full to the brim of every possible bottle of booze you can imagine.

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The place was full of ex-pats filling up their trolleys with cases of beer, wine, champagne . . . . who then loaded into their cars and covered the loot with blankets and towels. Apparently, Sharjah police occasionally set up roadblocks and randomly search vehicles. Similarly, if you have a car crash – you have to call the traffic police (another story for another day, but you can’t get your car fixed by a garage without the traffic police report) which again could cause trouble if they find you in possession of alcohol.

I couldn’t possibly tell you whether we bought any contraband or smuggled it through Sharjah . . . . .

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