A Wadi We Go!
I think I mentioned that we’ve been camping, and promised to fill you in on the details later. Well, we had a wonderful overnight trip, and have been back on the road a couple of times since. I've included a map so you can all follow our past, present and future travels throughout the Emirates and Oman.
I expect we'll be doing quite a bit of exploring over the next year or two so you may want to keep the map for future reference…
We made our first overnight trip in December just across the Omani border. We didn't have to go through any border checkpoints, even though we ventured quite far into another country. Our destination, Wadi Hamad, is about 25 kilometers from the UAE border just east of Al Ain, the other major city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
A Wadi We Go!
A "wadi" is either a river, a dried up riverbed, or a valley, or all three, I haven't quite figured out the precise English translation yet. In any event, "wadi bashing" – slowly navigating through a wadi in a four-wheel drive – is a popular pastime for the more outdoorsy Emirates expatriates.
The two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain across relatively flat desert terrain is uninteresting, partly because they’ve planted both sides of the highway with shrubbery and palm trees through which nothing of the desert can be seen.
Coincidentally, a historian I heard at a luncheon the other day was commenting that tens of millions of palm trees have been planted in the UAE since the late 1960s. Although the palm trees in particular are lovely to look at, it's unfortunate the roadside views are blocked by the ‘greenification,’ because desert scapes, I’ve discovered, can be astonishingly beautiful.
The city of Al Ain sits just next to the Hajar mountain range - a chain of rocky and rugged peaks that runs from the Musandam (the Omani tip of the Arabian peninsula), all the way down the east coast to just south of Muscat.
I was struck dumb by the beauty of these mountains, just as I was the first time I saw the Canadian Rockies – they are equally breathtaking, although in a much more stark and forbidding way. There are no foothills or rounded mountaintops, as you might see in the Rockies or the Appalachians. The long sharp ridges of the mountains rise abruptly, and surprisingly, out of the desert sands.
We left the paved highway just outside of Al Ain and drove 20 km into the mountains on a well-traveled, hard-packed track before turning off into our wadi, and a much more challenging track that led to the campsite.
As we drove into the mountains, the sand and dunes were replaced by valley floors covered in gravel and shale, barren except for the occasional thorny tree and a smattering of hardy bushes. It was like visiting another planet.
Now and again we passed a walled farm or oasis comprising several hundred date palms, some stone or mud houses, and a few small, cultivated garden plots. I only know what's inside the walls from having looked down upon them from a mountain peak.
As we drove by, the tops of the palms were visible – they are unbelievably lush and green against the beiges and browns of the rocky backdrop – but that's all we could see because of the six-foot-high mud walls surrounding the compounds.
The only fauna we spotted were black and white long-haired goats either grazing on god-knows-what, or climbing the thorny trees to get at the top-most branches (incredible but true, we've got pictures to prove it!). (Susan notes in 2009: I have albums full of photos, but unfortunately they are in storage at the moment…Digital cameras were a thing of the future in 1993!)
We covered the last 5 kilometers in a little less than an hour – my first taste of four-wheel driving in a wadi bed – and made camp beside one of the four trees on a large flat plateau between some particularly steep ridges.
Towards mid-afternoon we (Bob and I went with a friend and his 11-year-old son), drove about a kilometer across the plateau and parked the vehicles at the top of a narrow canyon. We clambered 250 feet down the side of the crevice, and swam in the deep clear ice-cold pools at the canyon bottom. Ahhhhhhh.
That night we sat around the campfire, and watched the stars for a while before the full moon rose above the peaks to make the night eerily bright. The next morning we made a short climb up the peak that backed the campsite, and saw the sunrise on the valley that lay far below our plateau. It was truly a weekend to remember.