27.08.2014 - 03.09.2014
Like most foreign workers in The UAE, I was required to exit the country while awaiting my work permit. Some are lucky enough to be able to do A to A (airport to airport) wherein all they need is an exit stamp on their passport and they can fly back in on the same day. Since the company I was going to work for doesn't have the capacity to do A to A, I really had to stay a couple of days in Kish Island.
Kish Island is a part of Iran, and is favored by a lot of Filipino workers as their exit point while waiting for work visas and visit visas to be processed. I have heard a lot of horror stories about Kish, stories about drugs, rape, theft and loneliness. I definitely was not looking forward to staying there.
Packing Smart - Since I didn't know exactly how long I would be staying there, It made sense to pack food and clothes enough for 5 days. Kish Airways has a baggage allowance of 30kg so I had no trouble trying to fit everything in. I did some last minute shopping the night before my flight. I brought cup noodles, biscuits, instant coffee, teabags, canned goods that had easy open tabs, white flower oil for headaches and for blocking out unwanted smells, a mini first aid kit, toiletries and a nail cutter for my cable-tie (I used a small cable-tie to secure the lock on my luggage since padlocks are easily opened), disposable utensils, a microwaveable container, rolls of tissue and a big bottle of alcohol.
For clothes, i bought just 3 pairs of jeans, leggings, long sleeved shirts, light cardigans that were long enough to reach up to mid-thigh, socks, undies of course and pashminas. Since Kish Island is a part of Iran, the Islamic code of dressing has to be followed, wherein full body and hair covering must be observed by women. Shorts were okay for when you're in your room, but otherwise, stepping out means dressing up as well. You also have to bring your own bath towel, a blanket and pillowcases as well since the first choice for a hotel is not really in the 3-4 star range.
August 27, 2014 1500H -- My flight from DXB to KIH was only around 30 minutes, but it was the most terrifying 30 minutes of my life. The plane looked older than my grandma, and sounded like her too. There were some screws missing from the overhead cabin and I was afraid it would come crashing down on our heads. The english translation of the safety guidelines were done so fast that all I could grasp was "Since we will be flying over water..." And that was it. Takeoff was scary since the plane made screeching sounds and flew at a 35 degree angle for about 15 minutes, and almost sideways for the remaining 15. Landing was felt by every muscle in my body and I just kept pinching myself in order to feel something other than fear.
The flight stewardess had no customer service skills whatsoever, did not smile and just kept saying "pull up the shutters" or "wear your seatbelt". Since it was only a short flight, I was surprised that we were handed out snacks. It consisted of a tuna sandwich and juice. 1 point for Kish Airways. When I took a bite, I mentally took the point away, although I was grateful that we were given something.
Upon landing, we were herded like sheep into a shuttle that would take us to the arrivals section of the Kish Airport. From the shuttle, you could see a sign saying "Welcome to Beautiful Kish Island" and the flag nearby.
Before entering the airport, all the women were scrutinized by an elderly airport security personnel to ensure that we were "presentable" to the male population. Those wearing shirts that did not cover their behinds or reached partly mid-thigh, myself included, were told to go into a changing room where sheilas (hair covers) and blue strait-jacket-like clothing were provided. These would be on loan to you up until your departure flight.
Like Dubai, there was a separate line for men and women. The airport was small, since I think it only expected around 5-6 flights from the UAE daily. I waited in line with my new acquaintance, Roxanne from Ras Al Khaimah whom I met at the DXB airport. I was told by friends to stick with a "buddy" during my stay in Kish, preferably someone who was also a first-timer like myself. Our passports were inspected, scanned and stamped in no time by the immigration officer and again, we were herded into the waiting area for the shuttle that would take us to the hotel. I say herded, because it really felt like we were being corralled into an area, no stragglers allowed.
The 2 shuttles from the hotel arrived after around 5 minutes and again, we were segregated into groups according to gender. "Filipino ladies to this shuttle, Filipino males into the other shuttle." By now I was starting to regret my maximizing the 30kg luggage allowance, since I had to carry my bag up to the shuttle and stack it alongside the others. Only the Farabi Hotel had shuttle service to and from the airport, and if you preferred to stay at a different hotel, you had to either take the shuttle and look for a cab at the Farabi Hotel, or you could take a cab directly from the airport to your hotel of choice.
During check-in at the Farabi Hotel, Filipinos are required to give 100AED deposit, whereas other nationalities are required 300AED deposit. The rate at the hotels in Kish are at 40AED per night, with the first night free at the Farabi. We were grouped into 4's and assigned rooms that way.. Our names were called at the front desk and our room numbers were handwritten on our "cards", which is basically just a plain white plastic card, with barcodes on stickers for identification purposes. Our passports were also collected at the front desk, and would be given back upon check out.
Our group was told to follow a guy, who led us to where we collected our blankets. We were then left at the end of a staircase leading up to our room...on the third floor. I was half hoping that there was a lift somewhere, but then I ended up just dragging my luggage up the stairs. We got to room 360 but it was locked. We tried to tap our cards near the door to try to open it, but it turned out, it was a doorbell. Someone answered the door and let us in. Only then did I understand that the room would not just be shared by 4, but along with 5 others who were already in the room. The room had a toilet and shower, 2 bedrooms and a living area. One bedroom had 4 beds inside, which were occupied by the 5 girls who were there ahead of us, the other room had 3 beds but no AC, the living area had another 4 beds. We stationed ourselves on the beds in the living area, since it was not as creepy as the ones inside the other room.
After a brief rest, Roxanne and I got bundled up again and went out in search of a place to have dinner. We walked across what looked like a plaza, turned right into a road near the beach and walked all the way under the scorching sun and finally found a small mall. We entered almost all of the shops but did not get any service and ended up buying almost nothing. Whenever we would ask how much something was, the salesman would barely look up and mutter "40 dirhams". If you dared ask another question, you would not get an answer. This happened in all shops we visited, except one. The shopkeeper was a friendly local named Abbas, who took one look at what I was wearing (the clothes from the airport) and told me "Ate, magpalit ka, ang pangit" ("Sister, change your clothes, they are ugly") and Roxanne and I knew we finally found a shop that we would be buying something from. Abbas was a nice salesperson and knew how to speak Tagalog. He kept offering buy 2 take 1 or gave us discounts if we bought 2 of the same items. I ended up buying 2 pashminas for 20AED, (they usually cost 2 for 25 AED back in Dubai) a long sleeved blouse for 40AED and a long skirt for 20AED. I never intended to spend that much on clothes since I bought my own pashminas and cardigans, but that is how good Abbas was. He called himself Albert Martinez, so if you ever find yourself in Kish island near Farabi Hotel, look for Albert Martinez
Food - We had dinner at the Kabayan Restaurant. The meal was nothing to write home to, come to think of it, none of the meals I had in Kish were good. They were edible, but not good. The rice at the Kabayan Restaurant had an unappetizing smell, something that made you think the water used was not clean. Only the fried chicken was worth eating. We went back to the room full but not satisfied and slept it off.
You can also buy your food at the Roodaki Restaurant, located near block 7 of the Farabi. Their chef speaks tagalog and is friendly. Like most establishments, they close from 1:30 to 4:30 so it is advisable to buy your food early. Or, if you're feeling lazy or just not up to the task of putting on layers of clothing just to go outside, you can have your food delivered to your room. The staff at the Roodaki goes room to room and takes orders around 10am for lunch, it will be delivered around 1pm with 1AED mark up. This is fine by me, better compared to donning jeans or leggings, an oversized cardigan over a shirt and wrapping your head properly in a sheila.
Places to go to - Used to be that they offered a Kish Tour for only 10AED, but since they stopped doing that, you had to look for nice places to visit on your own. The only mall near the Farabi Hotel was the Venus International Mall, located beside the Venus Kabayan Hotel. Now according to rumors, the Venus Hotel is where girls get drugged and raped all the time, but since I did not stay there, I cannot say for sure. The Venus hotel looked seedy, with a billiard table at the lobby and dim lights, smoke-filled room, who would not mistake that as a brothel? I came there only once to buy food, since a lot of kabayans said that the rice there tasted better.
The Venus International Mall is small compared to our malls and the shops are not enticing. Maybe it stems from the fact that storekeepers there would not even look at you when you enter, so much as respond when you ask how much something is. There is no fast-food at the Venus, just a cafe located at the atrium of the mall and I noticed a "SunWay" kiosk, their version of Sub Way.
On our third day on the island, Roxanne and I visited the Kish Trade Center, which was a much bigger mall compared to Venus, although we walked about 20 minutes to get there. We ended up not buying anything since everything seemed so expensive, and the sales clerks wouldn't really talk to us.
We also checked out the Zaytoon Mall, which had the ambience of Virra Mall in Greenhills. There were a lot of shops, a food stall that sold stale popcorn, never ending staircases, one working escalator, some sales people who would call out to you to buy their items, and still some others who don't give a hoot about selling anything.
Connectivity - Du and Etisalat have a decent roaming service in Kish, but expensive. That is why some people who expect their stay to be more than 10 days, opt to purchase what is commonly known there as the Iran Sim. The two major networks are MCI or Hamrahe Aval and the other one is MTN Irancell. Irancell is what is referred to as Iran sim. You can purchase 10AED balance for your Iran sim and have enough to call the UAE 8for about 6 minutes. There is a myth that if you are using Etisalat or Du and are out of balance or credits, calls would not come through. I refute that since my Etisalat ran out of balance on Day 1 and people were still able to call me. There is wifi available in the rooms, but it only works with Viber and Whatsapp.
To access Facebook, you have to rent a pc at the internet cafe and use their proxy server. Charges are at 2AED for 30 minutes and 4AED for 1 hour. Since internet connection is usually slow, I often found myself losing about 10 minutes of my 30 minute time just waiting for my Facebook page to load. Phone calls can be made from the business center as well, starting at 3AED for 1 minute and then 2AED for each succeeding minute. So, I advise against long calls if you want to save your money.
Budgeting - Since I had no idea how long I would be staying there, I deemed it best to keep purchases at a minimum, I had to stretch out every dirham I had. The room rate was at 40 AED per night, a meal was at an average of 12AED, drinking water was at 1 AED per liter, internet at 2AED for 30 minutes. That was about 67 to 70AED a day. Good enough. I figured your budget wouldn't last only if you spent the night at a shisha spot. A lot of kabayans prefer to meet up with other kabayans of the opposite sex and have a shisha session in the dark. I have nothing against them, I just have better things to do.
Sept. 2, 2014 1730H, I was in deep conversation with Suji, a Sri Lankan who arrived the day before and I didn't notice that my phone was ringing. I wasn't expecting any calls as well since I still believed the myth that without balance, you won't get to receive calls. It was the best news ever. After 5 days, my work visa was already processed and ready for printing. I hurriedly went to the business center, had my visa printed out (2 copies; one for the Kish Airlines ticketing office, and one to present at the airport. As it was only a few minutes past 5:30, I went out to check if I could still book my return flight. Turns out that the airline office was open until 6:00pm and I was able to secure a 12:45pm return flight to Dubai the following day, my birthday.
Upon returning to the room, I packed my bag, which weighed considerably less now since I had consumed most of the food. I laid out the clothes I would wear the following day. I wanted the night to be over as quickly as possible. My room mates and I had dinner (delivered by the Roodaki) while telling each others' life stories and making plans to have a movie night. Our choice for the night was White Chicks, which was in my iPad since it was one of my favorite movies. By 2am, it was "lights out", but we kept all the lights on because we all felt scared at one time or another.
Checking Out - Since my flight was for 1245H, I had to be at the front desk by 1000H to check out and be on the first trip to the airport. I gave my room card, along with the deposit receipt, waited for my name to be called at the check out counter, proceeded to the cashier and paid my dues amounting to 240AED for 7 days with 1 day free, hugged my room mates who saw me off, got into the shuttle before you could say Geronimo and waited for driver to take us back to the airport.
Leaving Kish - At the airport, we were allowed to check in for our flight at 1100H. After I checked in, I proceeded to the Security office, where the xray was. Once your luggage goes past the machine, you would be allowed to go to the immigration counter. Again, customer service was nowhere to be found, but this time, I knew better than to expect it. The only mistake I made was not going to the rest room before going through Immigrations, as it turned out, there were no rest rooms in the waiting area near the gate; just prayer rooms and a smoking room, and we were not allowed to leave the waiting area, even just to use the rest rooms. So, I had to hold it in until we reached DXB.
There was a small snack counter located near the gate, with a souvenir shop beside it. I didn't want to drink even though I was thirsty because I still had to relieve myself, and I didn't want any other souvenirs from Kish aside from the friends and memories that I had, so I just stayed in my seat and talked with an acquaintance up until the time we boarded the shuttle that would take us across the road to a much bigger plane this time that actually looked capable enough to take us home.
I made friends and acquaintances from my trip to Kish, I took pictures of the places and things that amused me. It was a trip worth remembering, an adventure. But it is something that I wouldn't want to go through again.
At 1340H, we landed at the DXB terminal 2, waited for 10 minutes inside the plane with no AC on for the stairs to arrive and finally took the shuttle back to the arrivals area. I wanted to kiss the ground, but instead I half-ran to the nearest rest room. Once I freshened up, I headed to Visa Collection counter. An officer was checking the visas while we were in lone, and told me that I could go straight to the Immigration counter since what I had was an eVisa.
I headed to the Immigrations counter, presented my passport and visa copy, proceeded with the eye scan, heard the lovely sound of the stamp meeting my passport and smiled for the first time in 7 days. I was finally back in the UAE on September 3, 2014, my 37th birthday. A new adventure awaits.