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.
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.
So in a country where kings have their way, falconry ( like horse breeding) can be indulged whatever the cost.
Did I mention that camel racing is making a come back with 4 wheel drive vehicles easily accessible as a winning prize in local races.
Did I mention that Annie teaching English to young policemen one day enquires why one young man was late for class. His response was the waving of car keys at her – he had been racing falcons at dawn and won a car.
This became the topic then for the English lesson and phones came out showing her various falcons and camels when she suddenly did a double take – is that a lion? Sure enough, that photo wasn’t a bird or camel but lion cub!!! A pet. Next a cheetah and I forget the third animal (bear?)
But the falcons, I hear you cry.
Yes there was one, one bird and four people standing around it asking questions of the handler. I could not believe my ears, the handler was South African as were the three strangers collected around her!!!!! Strange world.
There is a Huge falcon research centre on Al Ain and this young lady had always had a passion for birds. She studied animal husbandry at Potch University and finally found herself working here – a dream job – a dream come true 😃. She’s off shortly to Scotland to look for breeding birds.
This bird was a female, a little stressed at times as she overheated and was sprayed with water, bigger than the male as she needs to incubate eggs and he needs agility to hunt for two.
She has an enormous crop and I was invited to ‘poke my finger in her chest and feel’
Goodness me, I thought my finger would come out her back!!!! The strangest sensation but of course makes perfect sense for storage of you think about the size of the prey relative to her size.
I was proudly advised that a ladies only falconry club was starting. A two week course in November – Free and falcons provided. I can see another adventure looming
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 😢
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 😂
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’
And my bus pulls into Al Ain; to the joy of good friends waiting for me and the excitement of the unknown beyond.
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)
No not L. A. Al Ain.
Okay, I too, had to find an atlas and look it up. So for those without such a useful book (which as I remember was out of date almost as soon as it was published 😂)
Al Ain is the second city of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi being the first, the largest and the capital of both the emirate and the country.
For those interested, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) consists of 7 Emirates, amongst them Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Umm etc. Okay so you knew that, I won’t list them all then 😂.
Did you know the UAE is a member of the GCC (Arab Gulf
Co-operation centre) which includes Bahrain, Saudi, Kuwait etc. The etc again cause you know this and don’t want to be bored 😜.
Population of Abu Dhabi is (1.6million only), the largest of the emirates (by far, 87 340sq km) with 9% of worlds proven oil reserves and 4% of the worlds proven natural gas reserves. It is seriously wealthy (see my blogs, Abu Dhabi )
Oil was discovered in 1958 and the transformation of this area has been phenomenal (from rags to riches – a good read)
So if that isn’t a good enough reason to visit this part of the world, how about Etihad stops here on its way to Everywhere?
Better still, my dearest friends live here and I have not seen them for 16 years?
Abu Dhabi – so beautiful from the air
Curves – even the radio control tower is elegantly curved – like the dunes I remember from Namibia
The airport is large and beautiful but after standing in a crush (cannot call it a line) for more than 20 minutes to get through one gate and then 15 minutes of sweaty agitated bodies squeezing me as they jostled to get through 2 security checks – where Everyone had to take off shoes belts watches – (I wondered when someone would strip altogether as a protest – no one did! )
I am revising my opinion – the poor people who were trying to get on a USA connection – chaos is all I can say
And we haven’t arrived in Africa yet 😂😂😂
One poor old man lost his cool and began shouting in protest – he was quietly marched off – but interestingly the door was opened immediately for some of us – only some mind you 😜