Monday, December 7, 2009

A day at the beach

I've lived on Miami Beach. I've lived in Fort Walton Beach. I've lived in Tampa and spent every day off at St. Pete Beach. I've vacationed in Grayton and Cancun and Grand Cayman. I've hung out in Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach. I've been to San Diego's Torey Pines Beach and seen things you wouldn't believe. I've ridden out a hurricane on Panama City Beach. I've rented houses and condos on Hilton Head Beach. I've walked the shore at Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia. I've driven south on A1A and eaten conch fritters on Marathon Beach, then stood on Key West Beach and strained for a glimpse of the beach in Cuba, just 90 miles away.

What I'm saying is, I know my beaches.

Today, for the first time, I checked out the Corniche beach in Abu Dhabi. It's not the best beach I've been to. But it's far from the worst.

The beach was closed when I first got here, undergoing renovations in preparation for the Formula One race last month. They built boardwalks. They imported sand. (The local sand was not "fine" enough.) They built cafes and coffee shops. They set up bandstands and bicycle stands and ice cream stands.

It's clean and sparkling. The water is an incredibly clear, Caribbean-like blue green. It's inviting and comfortable. And like no beach I've ever seen, it's divided into three sections.

The Family Section, which costs 10 dirhams to enter, is the largest. It has parks and playgrounds and bouncy castles and slides and free lounge chairs. But you must be a woman, a child, or a man with a woman and child to enter.

Then there's the "Open to Everyone With 10 Dirhams" section, which is similar, but smaller and without the playgrounds. The theory seems to be, the cover charge will keep out the laborers, who have been known to hang out at the beach (and the malls) and ogle women, which makes everyone here very unhappy.

I'm not sure where I stand on this particular issue: these guys are building the country with their sweat, they're far away from their wives and families and sending every spare dirham home. They work six or seven days a week for a pittance and live in labor camps with thousands of other sweaty guys, and there are parts of town where they are just not welcomed. I don't think women should be ogled, of course, but if I were in their shoes ... I don't know.

In the middle is the free, open beach, which is where I went. It has coffee shops and cafes and about 300 yards of beachfront, tucked in between the other two. There are thatched barriers that run from the boardwalk to the surf line between each section, to keep anyone (heaven forbid) from peeking into another section. This is where the most people were -- men and women, mostly women, which was surprising, and mostly westerners. (It was Monday afternoon. The laborers were busy laboring.)

There were guards stationed at the surf line where the thatched walls ended. I saw two Pakistani guys get near the border and turn back. I went for a walk, and as I approached the barrier and the guard, I gestured ahead and asked, "That's the pay beach, right?" "Yes, yes," he said, waving me through, inviting me to continue my walk, free of charge. Apparently I was no risk as an ogler.

Feeling like I was striking a blow for laborers everywhere, I just said "No thanks," and turned and walked back down the stretch of free beach.


  1. And no mention of the best beach in the world -- and all the bars along that beach in which you invested heavily?

  2. Looking forward to those beaches and the sun and everything that isn't a miserable winter in Georgia.

  3. Anonymous -- I'm trying to keep that one a secret!