UAE Part 2


 

10/12 Another week goes by and we head off into the desert again. This time to the South, to the Liwa Oasis. Lars and I leave earlier and find a camp spot in the desert. Stephan joins us after work at the camp site. On the way we stop to have a look at the car collection of the Rainbow Sheikh. We are just in time to watch the arrival of one of his mobile homes:

The globe on the left is another mobile home. This truck is another one. It's a scale "model" of a Dodge Power Wagon, about 3 times the size of the original (just visible on the left). There is a complete apartment in the tray, the tailgate is a balcony and there is a master bedroom behind the radiator grille, where in the real thing the engine would be. It's supposedly the largest "car" in the world.

Amazing what you can do if you have too much money, isn't it? Near our campsite there is a new radio tower and I can't resist climbing it to the first platform, from where I get a good view. You can just see the almost empty 4-lane highway stretching to the horizon, complete with rows of irrigated greenery either side and street lights. This connects Liwa oasis with the coastal highway and is about 110 km long. Amazing... Also stretching to the horizon in all directions is the desert, of course.

The oasis lies on the edge of the so-called "Empty Quarter", Rub al Khali, the biggest sand desert on Earth. Most of this lies in Saudi Arabia, but the UAE has its share. We more or less ignore the oasis proper, being mainly a collection of modern villages connected by the same type of motorway-like road as above, and head South towards Tal Moreeb, a massive dune. The dunes around here are generally very big and they have built a new road to it, which winds its way up and down and around the dunes, making for a wonderful ride after all the long boring straights. We enjoy this ride very much, but have to watch out for sand drifts.

Arriving at the dune I realise that tourism has arrived here in force, although we are just about the only ones there. There are fences on the dune and lots of sheds. When I turn into what looks like a car park I get intercepted by a "friend" (of my wallet). He gives us each a ride up the side of the dune and down the slope on his clapped out quad. Then he demands an outrageous amount of money for it, but with Stephan he doesn't get far. I think I should know by now never to be taken for a ride by a "friend" without negotiating the price first...

 

 

 

That speck in the centre is...

 

The colours in the desert never cease to amaze me

The plan now is to return via a piste along the Omani boder that Stephan did some time ago. We fill up in Hameem, then leave the main road. Lars and Stephan go looking for desert roses (crystals, not plants), while I tune Lars' carburettors, as his bike has been running very badly. We pass another camel farm, where most of the camels are almost black. Some distance later there is a locked gate and an army checkpoint and here our trip ends: we are not allowed to continue. So we turn back and set up camp at the base of another huge dune.

Desert roses

In the morning I walk to the top of the dune:

Liquid sand!

Back to Sharjah. We are now finally packed up and ready to leave, together with Stephan, who will accompany us one more time this weekend.

13/1/2007 Stephan, driving his dark-green monster, takes us into Wadi Bih. This is a wadi at the Southern end of the Musandam peninsula. Since this is Omani territory there is a UAE checkpoint, where a guard records our details in a book, but no border processing as such takes place. A little further on there is the famous Omani army checkpoint, where nobody is allowed to go on the track North, but going East into the wadi here is no problem. The formalities consist of saying "As-salaam alaikum" to the guard and shaking his hand, telling him we're going to Wadi Bih and he opens the barrier for us.

The scenery is just awesome, as the track winds through the wadi, over a pass and back down into another wadi. The track comes out in Deba, where we stop for a picnic on the beach, then cross into Dibba and we're back in the UAE, although there is no border post here at all. We make our way down the coastal highway, stopping off at Bibyah Mosque, the UAE's oldest, and the mangroves in the nature reserve of Khor Fakkan. Nice, but this doesn't keep us for long. Back into the wadis where we pitch our tents for the night. Our support vehicle provides us with all the provisions we need, like kebabs, grill and firewood and we have a very pleasant evening again. In the morning we find Wadi Sharm, which Stephan was very keen to show us. However, we find the going in the deep gravel very tough and leave it at the next opportunity. Next stop is Hatta with its nice Heritage Village, where we can see how people used to live until very recently.

Right next to this is another old mosque, set in very pleasant surroundings with lots of trees and water channels. I can just imagine what an oasis this must be in the hot summer months.

We were going to camp out again tonight, but Stephan announces that he has found us beds for the night. Mike in Al Ain, who is leaving the UAE in a week's time and from whom Stephan is buying a bike has offered to put us up. But first we have to get there. Having crossed the borders several times unmolested we now find that getting back into the UAE here is not so easy. A new border fence is nearing completion and at the main crossing point we get turned right back: locals only. At the next crossing there are again no formalities beyond showing passport and bike registration, but this is so far the only border on my trip where I have to open one of my panniers for a superficial inspection. We find Mike across the road at a friend's place, Amal, in the process of preparing dinner for us all. There it is again, this great hospitality from people who have never even heard of us. Thanks to Amal and Mike! Here Stephan leaves us to go home, as he has to work again tomorrow.

15/1/7 Before finally leaving the UAE we head up Jebel Hafeet, its highest mountain. A 3-lane illuminated highway leads to the top, where there are hotels and a sheikh's palace. The road is a biker's dream with long sweeping bends and a smooth surface. If it wasn't so hazy the views from the top would be amazing. Strangely, there is a track bulldozed from the top car park almost to the top of the mountain, but it's behind a locked gate, so we can't even walk there. After enjoying the views for a while we head back down to the border. For Lars it's farewell to the UAE and to Stephan while I intend to return in a couple of months or so. As a final farewell the customs people at the border post make a complete mess of our carnets, stamping and removing import vouchers while we are leaving the country. We have to show them how it's done and Lars even stamps his own carnet! Well, this is a new border post and I'm sure they have never heard of a carnet before, let alone seen one.