Archive | February, 2015

Desert Wind

23 Feb
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Yes, that building is bendy.

You may have seen news reports at the weekend about the fire at The Torch Tower in Dubai, the flames fanned by the high winds. Thankfully no one was injured but it comes as a reminder of the power of the elements.

There’s usually a breeze here, particularly in the afternoons, but we’re having a run of days that have the wind really whipping round the tall towers. When you’ve lived on a boat you develop a very real respect for the wind and the crescendo of a gust building can still make me tense up. The difference with living on the land, though, is that I no longer feel that sickening fear. Even the thunderous rumble you get this high up is only annoying if it disturbs sleep.

But the wind here doesn’t carry the tang of salty sea spray. Here it’s sand filling the air, coating all surfaces with a thick reddish dust that’s hard to clean off and obscuring the horizon. Many of those working outside cover their faces with scarves or even surgical masks. Fortunately, Abu Dhabi is geared up for indoor living so it hasn’t curtailed our activities too much, merely forcing us not to eat on the terrace during brunch and closing the swimming pool. It’s a hard life.

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Forts

21 Feb

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Neil has a fondness for castles. We usually have to visit each and every one of these on our travels and they usually involve a climb. It turns out that forts also come under the same category. This being Abu Dhabi, though, we could drive practically to the front door. Win, win then.

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I would say that the old palace of Sheikh Zayed also comes into this category. Now a museum and decorated in the traditional style to represent what it would have been like in the pre-oil days, I was a little more enthusiastic about this one. Definitely worth a visit.

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Green Mubazzarah

19 Feb

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At the foot of Jebel Hafeet is Green Mubazzarah, an unexpected splash of colour in the desert landscape. It’s a public area fed by hot springs that have been channelled into streams and is unsurprisingly very popular, particularly at weekends I’m told. We arrived midweek and it had a lovely relaxed and sociable feel occupied mostly by women and a few pensioners.

We had to indulge in a little paddle, of course. Even though I knew the water was hot, it still took me by surprise just how hot! At the top of the stream the spring is pumped up to spray out of rocks creating a feature that encouraged a good soaking even if fully clothed. We managed to restrain ourselves – very British, don’t you know.

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Others had come better prepared to spend the day than us. Mats, camping chairs, barbecues and coolbags had been brought along and set up in shady spots under trees or the roofed shelters that were dotted about. We managed to nab one of these to unwrap our butties. Very pleasant it was, too.

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Jebel Hafeet

16 Feb

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You can’t miss the mountain that rises above the city of Al Ain . Well, you could if you were depending on the signposts but fortunately it does rather stand out. We’d read of the winding route up the mountain and thought we knew what to expect. We were forgetting this is Abu Dhabi not Europe. The road is wide and modern, good barriers over the precipitous drop with large parking areas dotted all the way up, seriously putting anything else we’ve previously experienced to shame. Mind you, on the midweek day we chose to go up, many of these areas were closed to the general public – they were being used to fly falcons.

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At the top is another large car park and a cafe. And views, of course, so it’s worth picking a clear day. We didn’t. Except the car park isn’t quite at the top. There’s a “path” beside the cafe and we could clearly see people at the summit. It was a bit on the warm side but, well, nothing ventured…

From the quotation marks you’ve probably guessed that this was not a path. When a car came past us on the way down we just thought “wouldn’t like to drive up here”. Then a second car approached, rolled down the window, and informed us that we should hurry down as the route was not for walking but he didn’t seem too alarmed and waved us up to the last last 100 metres or so to the view point.

Pausing only to take a couple of photos we took him at his word and headed straight down. The gates that we had barely noticed on the way up were now closed. And padlocked. A police car was parked outside. He took one look at us and drove off. There was nothing for it but to climb the gate – not too arduous and thankfully without the spikes of the surrounding fence. Except I was wearing my modest long skirt. As you can probably guess, modesty went out of the window.

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Al Ain

15 Feb

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Abu Dhabi is an island, a city and an emirate: the name applies to all three. So you can live on Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi. And you thought New York, New York was good. Well, Al Ain is Abu Dhabi’s other city.

A bit of history: In the first half of the 20th Century, before the discovery of oil, the movements of the Bedouin people who lived in this harsh desert land were dictated by the seasons. In the cooler winter months they would come to the coast and make a living diving for pearls. As the temperature soared, the humidity at the coast also became intolerable and they would head inland to an oasis where the climate was more bearable. Al Ain was the biggest of these oasis and many Emiratis still have holiday homes there. It was also an important point in the trade routes of the area.

Situated on the border with Oman, the city has remained on a much smaller, and lower, scale than the capital. The minarets of the mosque still tower over the surrounding buildings. Even though you arrive in the city on a palm tree-lined highway the surrounding desert is very apparent, the reddish dunes becoming more dominant the nearer you get. And above it all rises Jebel Hafeet mountain. This was where we were headed when, with a few days off, we figured it was time we explored.

Swapping Lives

8 Feb

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There’s no denying that returning to Abu Dhabi is a pleasure. The temperature is perfect at this time of year, just right for spending time outdoors and dining al fresco. Who wouldn’t want to be here? For me it’s coming home, too. Neil is here, of course, but also the life we’ve already made.
The transition from my “other life” in the UK was made easier by Alex accompanying me on the journey out and staying with us for a few days giving us the perfect excuse to become tourists again. This naturally meant rather a lot of over indulgence but, hey, what can you do?

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The wrench had to come sooner or later, though. Saying goodbye to him at the airport was incredibly hard. Leaving other family members back in the UK, particularly with some issues still very much up in the air, piles on the worry and, yes, guilt. As always, everything comes with a price.