Ashkeling 2005/6 trip - United Arab Emirates
Last Updated: 6-Feb-06
20-Dec-05 UAE - Dubai to Al Ain
After a short flight from Doha, we arrived in Dubai around noon and picked up a car and a SIM card for the cell phone. The villa that we are renting with the Ramaniappans graciously allowed us to drop luggage there early, so, with our load lightened, we headed southeast to Al Ain in Abu Dabi, right on the border with Oman and near Saudi Arabia. The road is straight, lit, and tree-lined; it was a pleasant one-hour drive.
|A hot breakfast beverage before the flight
||Mmmm, airplane breakfast (no bacon)
|Our hotel and the Doha corniche
|Mother Nature wins
Just north of Al Ain is the Oasis of Hilli, which also has an archaeological park. We stopped in there to see some 3000-year-old tombs. We discovered a pleasant little family park overrun with mynah (and other) birds; the ruins (some reconstructed) were scattered about.
From there we drove into the center of Al Ain, which is a maze of roundabouts. We found our way to the souk, which was mostly shops, but there was also a vegetable, fish, and meat market. Many of the stand owners wanted their pictures taken, so of course we obliged.
|Ancient round building of unknown purpose
||Detail around the portal
|A lovely park
||With all kinds of visitors
|Like most all places, a mosque is convenient
||And the bathrooms behind the mosque. But is this for men or women?
There were fewer restaurants than we expected, but a search turned up the Rainbow Muslim restaurant. Dishdashaed and bearded men filled the place. As soon as we walked in, three men got up very abruptly and rushed out, probably because of Roswitha, or because we were infidels, or because they had finished. We were talked into Chicken Tikka, Lamb masala, rice, flat bread, a small plate of veggies, and bowls of laban (yogurt). It was all very tasty and cheap.
|Meat my friend
|A little camel?
||Modelling an acquisition
|The Coffee Roundabout
Working our way out of the city's maze, we drove south to the resort of Ain Al Fayda Hotel and Rest House, which lies near the base of a steep hill, and has some hot springs. The manager said that the hotel was built 20 years ago, but it must be more. The resort is owned by the municipality of Al Ain as a family park. Back in its day, the resort must have been a grand place, but it is now just very tired. Still, it is comfortable and cheap.
|Rainbow muslim restaurant
||Al Ain mosque
Before retiring for the evening, we decided to take a drive up the hill, called Jebel Hafeet. This is a new road, well lit, which climbs up to almost 1100 meters in a series of sharp switchbacks. At the top are a Mercure resort hotel, a radio tower, one of the UAE's president's palaces, and a wide parking lot with a snack bar. In almost any other country, this would be where couples would go for some "parking," but that is not allowed here. A group of men in dishdashas was parked at the top, dancing and singing at the fence which looked out onto the plain. Nearby was another car with two black-draped women chatting with each other and someone else on a cell phone. ("Hey, Shanya, guess where I am!"). A few other cars were parked around, but not many. Just as we were leaving, around 9 PM, more cars started to arrive.
||Ain Al Fayda Rest House
21-Dec-05 UAE - Al Ain through Oman to Fujairah
|From atop Jebel Hafeet
Breakfast at the hotel was sad, but it's not surprising given that there are so few guests. We drove back up Jebel Hafeet to see it in the daytime, and the construction is quite a feat. The palace is impressive, but the view would have been better if the air were clearer. We stopped off at the Mercure for a Turkish coffee, a Blue Mountain espresso (both outstandingly good), and a bit of internet, which Al Ain seems to lack.
We then headed into the center of Al Ain. The first stop was a small fort built in 1940. From there, we went to the Museum and Eastern Fort, which was the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed, first president of the UAE. The museum was very well done, covering the same ground as other museums we'd seen, but with rich displays and good explanations. The fort is the one which is on the UAE 10 Dirham note; it has a room filled with fascinating photos from the 1960s. A woman who worked at the museum had henna patterns on her hands which she had painted herself; she allowed Roswitha to photograph them.
|Oasis park at the foot of Jebel Hafeet
||I want a water tower like this
||Where is the men's park?
||Fake deer and community center
||Up Jebel Hafeet
||Looking down at Ain Al Resort
||Multistory vines inside the Mercure
||The Mercure hotel
||In the Mercure, Israel had been wiped off the map
||Atop Jebel Hafeet, a surprisingly huge parking lot
||The highest porta-potties in the UAE
||The Emir's palace
The livestock market is right next to the museum and fort, so we wandered through it. The only livestock we saw were goats, most of them in trucks (which looked they had not moved in years), although a few were carted off in a car trunk. We spoke with a few of the merchants; many were from Pakistan and came here because the business is good. They also tried to sell us goats.
|Al Muraba'a fort
||Up & down
|Overlooking Al Ain
|Items for feeding infants
|So this is Graz!
|Water skins, including the full goat size
|Al Ain Museum
||A gift from King Juan Carlos of Spain
||Wall & shadows
|Sheikh Zayed's birthplace
|Old family photos
||Another coffee pot roundabout
The people at the museum made an excellent recommendation for lunch. Al Yaher is a typical mideast restaurant, and very popular. Many cars were lined up keeping the carhops…er…hopping, and the tables were full of men. We retreated upstairs to the family room. When we arrived, a large family was finishing, and the little boys were encouraged to talk with us. Two other couples were also there while we were, and preferred being screened off from us. We had fried liver, hummus, salad, banana fathath (a banana and grain mash), and flat bread, washed down with guava juice and pomegranate juice. It was excellent.
|Wanna buy a goat?
||This truck's going nowhere
|How much is that goat in the window?
||Help me practice English?
|Two in the trunk
||Such a face
|We've got 'em by the truckload!
||One to keep
Next on the plan was to enter the Sultanate of Oman through Buraimi (which shares the oasis with Al Ain), and drive across the northern portion to another UAE Emirate. However, neither our map nor the road signs cooperated; it took us a long time to find our way into Buraimi. There is not a formal border at this point; the border check is about 50 km inside of Oman. We checked out the Buraimi souq and fort, but did not waste much time there. One of our German guide books mentioned Fossil Valley to the northeast of town. We found the roads to get us there, but could not find a sign in the right area. The nearest one was an arrow-shaped sign which had been hollowed out. Roswitha had the idea to look at the sign going in the other direction, and there we found…the Buraimi Sewage Treatment Plant.
||So very tasty
The border check is located in a beautiful new building which has only been used for about a month. For reasons which were not clear (our Bahrain visa was supposed to work), we had to pay 120 dirhams for entry visas. But, the overall experience was much better than we had entering Belarus.
|Fort and Minaret
||Fort in Al Buraimi
The road to the east coast, on the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean, took us through sharp limestone mountains which reminded me of the desert mountains of west Texas. Only it was more desolate. And there were round towers. Near Sohar, we turned northwards, rather than south towards Oman's capital of Muscat. Before we crossed the border back into the UAE, Oman dinged us for another 20 D as a car departure fee.
|Mountains of Oman
||Strategic tower...150 years ago
Across the border lies Sharjah, the third largest and most fundamentalist emirate. We passed quickly through it to the next emirate, Fujairah, and our hotel. After checking in, we had a spicy chicken shwarma, avocado juice, and grapefruit juice at the Green Valley Cafeteria, another busy car-hopping place.
|Judging whether we should go to Muscat
The hotel, like many hotels in the three Arab countries we've visited, is licensed to serve alcohol to guests and foreigners. For a long time, it was almost impossible to get alcohol unless you were a guest, but they've slowly been liberalizing it to the point that most hotels are the places that locals go to party. In fact, they have become towering party discos where some people also attempt to sleep. This hotel in Fujiarah (the Ritz Park) has five bars. On the top are an Indian bar, a Russian bar (with the "Hottest Russian Band in Town") and an Old-West themed bar, with old posters, barrels, a rustic bar, and floor tiles signed (in the same hand) by all the cowboy movie greats (James Stewart, John Wayne, Paul Newman, Bud Spencer (you remember him, right?), and so on). "The Hottest Filipino band in Town" was playing on the mezzanine. As a result, the hotel thumped strongly well into the morning.
|Get your dishdasha made here
||Making spicy shwarma
22-Dec-05 UAE - Fujairah to Ras Al Khumairah
The Ritz served breakfast upstairs in the Western-styled bar. We walked through the door, stepping confidently over the signed tiles. The place went silent as all eyes turned to look at the strangers. With nary a word, the entire group of Filipinos stood up, straightened themselves out, and quietly slipped out.
|All hotel rooms have a pointer to Mecca
Fujairah has a sad little museum, and a striking fort where the emir lives. It is located in the dumpy old town, which seems to be built from adobe, and is falling apart, although the fort looks to be in good shape.
The east coast of the UAE lies on the Indian Ocean, with towns like a string of pearls heading up to two disconnected pieces of Oman and the highest mountains in the region. We drove through many of them on a large loop which took us along the narrow strip between the dry mountains and the sea. Uncountable oil tankers floated off the coast.
|All the greats
Just north of Al Bidyah lies the oldest mosque in the UAE, built around 642, the year after Mohammed's death. It has no minarets, just four oddly shaped cupolas. Non-muslims are not allowed in, so we only admired it from the outside, and from the two similarly aged towers on the rocks above it.
|Old town. Very old.
Khor Fakkan (in the emirate Ajman) has a neat little fish market. Since this coast looks towards a different body of water than others we'd been to, we were hoping to see different fish. While most were the same, new ones included something that looked like a lamprey, and also damsel fish. We stopped for coffee in the Ocean Hotel, and spoke with the dive shop to see what the area was like for diving. Shark Rock has whatever white-tipped sharks have not turned up in the fish market. Anemone reef is good for sea horses and manta rays. There are also two diveable wrecks.
|Al Bidyah mosque
||...and a guard tower
||...which overlooks the oasis
Further up the coast in Dibba, which is controlled by three different emirates, there is a magnificent mosque and a quiet beach. A very pleasant expanse of beach is decorated with flat-topped mesquite trees, and is designated for families only.We also stopped at a roadside stand and paid tourist prices for some fruit.
|Shark and more
||Fish cleaning station
|We won't see these on a dive
|Detail from the building
We drove through the steep mountains, not quite able to find the road we were looking for, but still made it to the west coast and Ras Al Khumairah, which is another of the emirates. Just outside of the city of Najil is the site of the ruins of the Queen of Sheba's palace, or so it is fabled. The directions were sketchy, and some of the markers have changed. The place is not signposted, but we made it through three small towns to the base of a small rock foothill in front of the great massif rising up into Oman. Goats were all around as we parked and started to climb up the hill just around sunset. The hill has lots of scree (and lots of goat pellets), but some cement steps have recently been built part way up. Goats were along the steps, and on top, and we even found the decomposed bodies of a few that had died up there. As we wandered around and looked at the ruined stone walls which covered the flat tops of two connected hills, the evening Muslim prayer sang out from three mosques in the hills below. We descended as the sky grew dark.
|Touching the Indian Ocean
|Inside a wind tower
||Strip mall wind towers
|Eating tiny bananas
We found our way back into Ras Al Khumairah, checked out the mall (where we had a late pizza lunch), and found one of the few hotels around. King Kong dominated the movie theaters in the area, so we instead did a driveby of RAK's old town; nothing grabbed our attention. So, we had a light dinner at The Vegetarian's Restaurant (Rawa Coconut, Alu Mata Tomato, and lassis).
|The way in? Maybe?
||Steps leading somewhere
|I hope this goes somewhere
|The town below
||We're being watched
|There are outlines of a structure
|Some sort of structure
||Or a sacrifice?
||Goats at sunset
|The town below
23-Dec-05 UAE - Ras Al Kumairah to Dubai
|Not what we ate
After breakfast at the Vegetarian's Restaurant again (Onion Tomato Roast, Butter Dosa, Alu Mutter), we headed south down the coast to the only emirate we had not yet hit, Umm Al Qaiwain. It lies on a peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf, and has a small old town. The National Museum is, yet again, in an old fort, but it was closed on Friday morning. We walked around shooting a few photos, and saw a small flock of parrots which seemed to live in the palm trees in the fort.
We then continued on through the emirates of Ajman and Sharja, until we arrived at the villa we are sharing for a week with our friends Suku, Latha and their family. The huge Emirates Mall is nearby; we shopped for a few basics at the Carrefour there, had lunch (Döner Kebap) and also peeked at the indoor ski slope, which looks very similar to SAWSS just outside of Tokyo.
|Döner Kebap lunch - not as good as that place in Munich
||The land of Nescafe
|Wow - real choices of spices - in a superkarket
||Our home for a week
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