After being locked up in my hotel room for an entire day on my assignment, I needed to get out and do something new. So, I booked a last minute car tour out to the east coast of UAE. That’s what they call it. Geographically, it’s more northeast. My guide picked me up at 8:00am and we set out. Now, as I write this post, (April 22, 2015) I am between courses for my masters so I have a bit of free time to do some research.
As always, please forgive any factual, spelling or geographic mistakes I may make. I’m doing most of this from memory and those you know me are aware my memory is like a steel trap! Except that I’m using wet papier maché instead of steel.
From Dubai, we headed north desert and sand dunes. Yes, of course the road was paved! After a while, we left the sand behind and were met with the beautiful grand Hajar Mountains and the town of Dhaid. We made a quick stop at the Friday Market which was a weird name because it was Sunday and they were open. My guide, Abdulrachman, told me it use to only be open on Fridays but that had obviously changed. Even to a neophyte like myself, I could tell there were very good bargains to be had on many items. I had bought all I wanted at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah a couple of days before so no purchases for me.
We continued on through the mountains toward the emirate of Fujairah where we first went to the beach. Abdulrachman kept going on about the ‘air conditioner tree’, no doubt a local ‘story’ to keep the crazy westerners talking. It was just after 10:00am when we walked to the shore of the Persian Gulf. My guide was quite disappointed that we had missed the crabs. Apparently, every evening these crabs (no, I don’t know what kind) crawl out of the water and bury themselves into the sand, leaving little pyramid shaped piles on top of them. I didn’t see any crabs but the beach certainly did have dozens of the little sand pyramids all over.
When I mentioned how hot it was already, so early in the day, (36C…at 10am!!!!) Abdulrachman smiled and told me to follow him. We walked to the edge of where some grass meets the beach sand and there were two trees that were shaped a bit like umbrellas. He invited me to stand underneath one of them, in the shade. I have to admit, the name ‘air conditioner tree’ is pretty damn accurate!! Under those green branches, there was cool breeze blowing down on us. It was unbelievable! It had to be at least 15 – 20C cooler under the tree than just 3 feet out into the sun. If you’ll pardon the bad pun, it was the coolest thing I’d experienced in a long time.
It was time to continue on to a 14th century fort called Bithna. Made of rock and burnt clay, and standing at over 20 meters high at the main tower, I couldn’t imagine being a soldier in this fort. It was built on top of a hill, offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. It wasn’t all that big so I’m not sure how many soldiers were stationed there but, man, was it hot!!! When I saw that it was 46C I mentioned to my guide that I must be crazy to be out here. He smiled and said I was! He then pointed out that no one else was around as the locals all stayed inside until later in the day. 46C!!! That’s my personal record and I’m in no hurry to break it.
We then went for some lunch and I was given the choice between typical ‘western’ meal at a chain hotel or the chance to sample some authentic local cuisine at a tiny, family run restaurant. Man, that hamburger was good!!! Just kidding. Of course I went local. We had some incredibly good Mandi Chicken. I know Saudis love chicken. I think they eat more chicken than anything else. Certainly our students never have enough of it. Kabsa is chicken and rice and the chicken can be prepared many different ways. Again, I’m no expert, but I believe Mandi is a variety of Kabsa. Come on! It’s chicken and rice!
However, this chicken was prepared differently that what I’ve experienced in the past. It melted in your mouth. It was awesome. The rice was served with plain yogurt and lemon wedges. That, too, was incredibly delicious. I’ve been in Saudi Arabia for about 8 months now and I am kind of getting use to eating with my hands. Well, eating chicken with my hands. I cannot, however, eat rice with my hands. I just can’t/won’t do it. It’s simply too messy for me. Of course, our waiter made a big production of getting me a spoon for my rice. The locals had a good chuckle but it was all in good fun. By the time we got to dessert, there were about 10 other people having lunch with my guide and me. We took turns telling stories of our countries and laughing at our horrible English or Arabic. After about 3 pots of Arabian coffee, my guide said it was time to move on. I said goodbye to my new friends and we headed down the highway.
It was already getting into the mid-afternoon and we had one more stop to make. It was at the Al Bidiyah Archaeological Mosque. Wow that was very cool. Unlike Saudi Arabia, I was encouraged to enter this great little mosque in the mountains. It’s said that it has been dated to the mid-15th century and is unique because of its pointed domes (instead of circular) and the one pillar holding it up. It’s made of stones and mud bricks and covered in layers of plaster. I removed my shoes and entered. As all mosques are, the floor was completely covered with a rug. Even with 21st century amenities (fans, lights) you could clearly tell this had been around for a long time. As I was taking pictures, an old gentleman entered and prepared to pray. I turned to leave but he stopped me. In Arabic, he indicated that I didn’t have to go as he was just doing a short prayer. After he was done, we left together and sat outside on a bench and had the best mimed discussion I’ve ever had. He understood no English and I know no Arabic. Yet, in about 15 minutes or so I knew his name, (Waleem, I hope I spelled it right) his age, (87) what he did for a living (fisherman) and a whole bunch about his family. He in turn learned that I was Canadian, working at a college in Saudi Arabia and indicated he had heard of Niagara Falls. He assured me education was a very good thing. It was the best 15 minutes of my trip. Shaking hands with yet another new friend, it was time to head back to Dubai.
All in all, I believe I travelled through 5 of the 7 united emirates. Yes…that’s why they call it the United Arab Emirates. What started out as a last minute thing to change the scenery a bit, turned into an unforgettable trip in a part of world I had barely ever heard of. I met some great people and visited great places with names like Fujairah, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain. We even crossed the border and entered the neighbouring country of Oman for some gas. Quite the adventure for this lucky, world-travelling Canadian.
See what happens when I get some free time!!! I hope I didn’t bore any of you too much. In the next couple of days I’ll let you know all about my sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Dubai desert.