this crazy planet is amazing.
Alone, but not alone
this crazy planet is amazing.
Alone, but not alone
Driving along the deserted beach road, our eyes were drawn by a massive flock of birds on the skyline. We followed them and found a scene which, were it not for the truck, could have been taking place 2000 years ago.
Such excitement, such joy, such energy,
We were caught up in this primeval act of abundance. A sardine run, nets, men, old, young, in between, working together to collect this bounty.
And He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. John 21:6
Their net was full; so full they could not lift it but had to lift the fish out in buckets.
And all the while we watched, enthralled, amazed, humbled why what we saw.
And all the while, the men would stop for a minute, clap and sing and offer praises to their Allah for the bounty.
My cup runneth over
Surely a day not to be forgotten in a hurry.
Remarkable, ancient, and offered to us becaus
e we wandered off with open minds and no agenda.
Annie, Mick, – thank you.
and so, still marveling at the amazing sardines we had seen, we wandered further, alone, no one in sight, but a dot in the ocean. Our eyes adapted, finding it hard to comprehend what they saw.
A bull in the ocean, bobbing up and down, accompanied by a young man who bobbed with him. Surely not.
But so it was. And the bull (turned out to be an ox :)) swam with his master deep in the ocean for at least ten minutes as we sat and watched, mesmerized.
They then came closer, into shallow water and with tender care they scrubbed the beasts flanks, chest, belly. Again we were witness to a ritual that surely goes back to biblical times.
The bond between boy and beast was, even from our distant position, almost palpable. The one relied on the other, – for what? transport, food, strength, support.
Only they will know, if they even think about it.
But there they were, together in a ritual of cleaning, healing and I am sure bonding.
As we learnt later, a weekly ritual, which we by chance, and gratefully were privileged to witness, while standing apart.
Wondering what the next adventure would be, I put myself into the care of dear dear friends (whose value to me is far greater than the riches that created the land they now call home) and waited to see where that led.
Citadels, landscapes, buildings, roads, birds, people beyond expectation and that was only day one 🙂
Early today we breakfasted, loaded our picnic, passports, bathers (swimming costumes). smiles, sense of adventure and headed to Oman – Sohar to be exact.
An hour’s easy drive from Al Ain. A very defined custom’s border post; no photography, stand in line, and the excitement of a stamp in my passport, Oman 🙂 (No EU freedom of movement here.) And finally now Sultans rule, not Sheikhs (I learn something new every hour here) and immediately the landscape has changed.
Mountains, now. More rugged, more austere, more “rubbish”as my father and his mountaineer friends used to refer to this kind of rock ; not the sort of stone that draws climbers into its orbit, but rather hastens them in the opposite direction.
Life here must have been unbearably tough, and in many areas, I am sure still. Reading, as I am, Rags to Riches, the story of Dubai/Abi Dubai one can only marvel at the speed with which this change has occurred.
A special stop at Sohar for a picnic tea and biscuits, lovingly offered by Mick,; saw a middle aged man beautifully clad in white quietly ‘join’ us.
He sat on a bench right behind us, close enough in an empty vastness to be ‘part of our space’ and since there was a vast area with seating to chose from, I am guessing his solitude was beginning to weary him.
And he sat,
hands on knees,
looking ahead and studiously avoiding any visual contact with us.
It was a Saturday, a holy day and the streets were still deserted.
We spoke no arabic.
He spoke no English
He declined our offer of tea.
He declined our offer of biscuits.
As we packed up to leave,
we offered him some fruit,
he took an apple and banana
We left as he sat,
alone in the picnic ground,
beautifully clad in white on a holy day.
Flying today is not as i have said previously for the faint hearted but demands a strong constitution and sense of humour
My travel companion this time is an elderly gentleman, not spilling over into my seat physically as has been the case in the past, but nonetheless he spills over.
The first large loud and distinctly pungent burb exploded (there is no other word to describe it) with such force several heads turned our way.
I maintained a stoic dignity looking ahead, a little unsure of the appropriate response. He is elderly, there are cultures where that is a sign of courtesy and acknowledgment of a good meal – we had been given a tiny packet of saw dust tasting nibbles – perhaps that was it?
His voice is loud and demanding and the slight Serbian air hostess is politely taking offence at his tone. She and I make eye contact and understand one another. Another Loud sound emerges with a huge sense of satisfaction and I inhale tomato juice I didn’t order 😂😂😂 and continue to look ahead – “I heard nothing”
A sneeze follows, we all jump and the sounds that follow shall not be described 😳
Special meals are now the norm and it is a circus as everyone around me seems to have swapped their seats and my Serbian air hostess is wandering around with huge baskets of specials trying to find the owner of a seat number; vegetarian Hindi, vegetarian; ( there can be a difference?) Gluten free, you ordered low calorie? Oh, nut free? Lactose free? No I don’t have an order for sugar free; boneless fish?
And finally the normal meal trolley arrives – by which time most people have had their specials so I feel special as she aims directly for me – almost the only one left to feed 😂😂😂
One thing I know, whichever meal anyone gets, they will all fit the bill of taste free.
And my travelling companion now slurps with great delight, (oh that I could share the sound with you 😜😂)another tomato juice – no ice, salt yes, no pepper! No good
Perhaps the burbs are not after all a sign of contentment
We are both after all on a long distance flight!
I too may start to burb if any more tomato juice, with or without salt and pepper is served 😳
Flying requires a sense of humour, strong constitution, short legs (score there 😜) and a very good book (score there too)
And we are still not there yet
Next stop Qasr Al Muwaijii
A mouthful for an non Arabic speaker like me – so I’ll call it the Fort
Actually it is one of many forts built over the centuries to protect the oasis (Al Ain) and irrigation channels (aflaj) that were created by the locals.
This one was built by Sheikh Zayed the Great (1826-1909)
For those who care😜it is bounded by the Hajar Mountains (east) and the rolling dunes of the Al Runb’ al
Khali (west), meaning the Empty Quarter. Just how empty, I hope to discover next visit.
Traditional dancing by elegantly clad men enchanted everyone and watching the young boys watching their obvious heroes and trying to copy them enchanted me.
Once again the men and women displayed great courtesy and patience as we asked questions that I’m sure they have had to answer thousands of time (or just maybe not- such as, what so do you wear under your hajib? She, a skirt and t shirt. I did not ask him 😜)
If it were only women she would not cover herself and at home, in the presence of her father or brothers she would uncover.
No, it is not hot, it is very light fabric.
No, generally the women don’t wash the men’s robes. They are sent out to be cleaned and pressed.
High quality Egyptian cotton for those wondering.
With eyes now tuned to detail I note the beautiful detail in the hajibs- the sleeves embroidered in black, scalloped perhaps, hemmed artistically. But always subtlety.
Nothing subtle about the eyes though – usually heavily made up, with deep lashes, dark kohl, they seem to present smouldering power and meekness at the same time.
University education is accessible to everyone and I have been repeatedly taken aback when talking to a ‘lady in black’ to discover she is a practising dentist, engineer, doctor. Says something again about my preconceived ideas 😢
The adventure continues …..
We stopped at the Al Ain Mall. Deserted (it was Friday- holy day), sophisticated and very well ‘stocked’. All the brand shops, Apple, Zara, Marks & Spensors as well as remarkable individual stores – the jewellery stores were stunning – photos don’t do them justice 😩
Diamonds to die for, gold to melt your heart and security being ‘not an issue’ everything is available for scrutiny.
There is a whole level devoted to games, which also hosts an ice rink ! Oh to have had more time!
The city is spotless; disciplined in a middle Eastern kind of way. Men are courteous, not supercilious or presumptuous (of course that may be as much as indication of my advancing years as anything else 😜) and the women gracious, slightly shy but open to conversation always.
A drive through the market (Al Aflaj?) revealed a different world. Goats in tiny pens, herded together by perhaps owners, age, sex, colour, and camels too. Tall ones, surprisingly small ones, dark brown, usual sandy beige, babies suckling. We watched one bring paraded like a stud horse before a potential buyer. We watched another being loaded into a bakkie (ute). It was done very ‘unceremoniously’ and was difficult to watch, but clearly ‘the way’ here. We did not ‘engage’ at the market as both Annie and I often do, but drove through ; I was very aware of being an outsider, non local and the men hanging round the animals were equally clearly non locals, Afghani, Bedouin etc.
A quick stop off at home to have a drink and check the rugby score 😂
And we were off again
In Abu Dhabi. This time as scheduled, 😜 I am now on a bus to Al Ain.
My eyes are struggling to adapt to this terrain. Having been saturated with the green of England, this looks so, so beige, all sand, not white, not yellow, just ‘blah’
So I sit and ‘gaze’ mindlessly travelling through scrubland, weary from an excruciatingly long flight.
Then, for a moment, I See, my eyes attuned; the curve of the freeway; a building moulded, bent, shaped; a minaret, curved, detailed, elegant.
At exactly the same moment, it blurs as if melting back into the sand. So I’m not sure of anything except the cold air conditioning of the impeccably clean bus.
I then see Nothing; as far as the horizon. This Nothing is messy after the manicured Devon fields, rocks, sand, scrub, a camel, all beige and scruffy looking, as if no one had been in to tidy for years.
My breath is suspended as some dunes appear – such beauty, soaring, orange, a sweeping curve reminding me of an eagles wing
This is a different place; I must sit up and take note.
Tourists please follow brown signs – I don’t see any brown signs – what does that mean? Where do the tourists go?
The roads are magnificent and everyone travels sedately, I notice. No one speeds (what’s the secret I ask myself? Chop off their wheels if they do😜)
Everyone moves quietly, almost elegantly, perhaps the beautiful sleek dress has something to do with it. The men stand tall, robed mostly in white – So white, so clean, so uncreased 😂. The women almost exclusively in black, from head to toe.
It is a ‘quiet place’
Where to begin 😃😃
Al Ain (The Spring in Arabic)- you now know where it is😃- so what’s to do there?
Plenty as it turns out.
A lovely fruit and yogurt breakfast started the day which saw us driving up to Jebel Hafeet.
Al Ain is flat, desert scrubland with these sudden dramatic protruding ‘mountains’. Except mountains is not the correct word – extrusions is perhaps a better description. I am trying to discover their origins but for that, patience please 😂.
Jebel Hafeet is a short drive south of the city centre along a remarkable double lane highway.
The second highest point in the emirate it is a protrusion that dominates the ‘flatlands’ Complex rocks, with many caves (no we didn’t enter any) and marine fossils apparently easily visible.
A UNESCO Heritage Site, 500 tombs have been uncovered here, dating back 3200-2700BC.
This is the most remarkable road, and reminding me in the scale of the road I had just walked on towards Buckingham Palace : impressive, winding ever upward (1 249m; 4098′) – to, as it turned out, a Palace.
Well no longer a palace for reasons best understood by Sheiks, Sultans, Kings and Queens, a new palace has been built with even better views (?) and perhaps a bigger bathroom or two-it is not for us to know.
The ‘old’ palace is now a hotel, looking out boldly across the city. We looked out more dimly than boldly as there was a definite heat haze blurring our vista.
The coffee was weak and very hot (could have done with it strong and cool😜); the sun forced us to move into the shade and we watched as people lazed around the pool, drank beers (alcohol not served outside hotels), men and women with flesh and tattoos exposed; a definite no no for the emirate people, of whom we saw none up here and for a short stay could have been at any hotel in the western world.
We continued a short way beyond (You could only continue a short way😂) when the road stopped, or rather we were stopped by the entrance to the new palace, from what I could see a masterpiece of modern sleek architecture, curved glass, blending spectacularly into the mountain.
Should I be back, I would like to walk this drive. To savour the views, the colours and textures of the rocks, at a more leisurely pace (albeit with, no doubt bursting lungs and aching legs). There is a cycle race annually here; the hills used for training for hikes and treks, (although I saw no sign while in Al Ain of any physical activity at all – sort of noticeable by its absence)