East Coast Tour
Trip Start Dec 16, 2011
7Trip End Dec 27, 2011
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Fujairah, one of the UAE's seven emirates and the only emirate on the Gulf of Oman, is also one of the least populated with around 130,000 inhabitants. Unlike its large and flat neighbors Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Fujairah has no oil and its economy has been focused on shipping. Though lacking in many natural resources, it is easy to see that Fujairah has followed in Dubai's footsteps as construction is occurring everywhere. Fujairah's ruling Al Sharqi family is attempting to develop it as both a tourist destination and an economic center, and the emirate will likely be a very different place in 5 to 10 years
We hopped off of the ship and onto a bus for our "East Coast Tour", which would cover the entire eastern region of the country, from Fujairah in the south to Dibba in the north. We started out with a quick drive and a ten minute stop at the Fujairah fort, located on a hill on the outskirts of town. Originally built in 1670, it was the only permanent structure in the area for centuries. There wasn't much to do here and renovations were going on, but we were allowed inside for a small fee, and we walked around and took some pictures of of the mid-sized mud brick complex.
From there we continued driving into the mountains and stopped for photos at an overlook of the oasis at Bithna, a small town in a valley. The view was spectacular, with a small fort surrounded by acres of date palms in the center of the valley. After some photos we were herded back onto the bus and driven out to the "Friday Market", a street of a few dozen stores that seems to be surrounded by rugged mountains in the middle of nowhere. About half of the stores sold produce and we purchased a few fruits from Yemen (but to our dismay we were forced to throw them out later when we tried to get back onto the ship). A bunch of other stores sold Persian carpets. We bought some snacks before re-boarding the bus for our next stop
Not too long later we were let off at the region's "little Grand Canyon", a lookout over the Hajar mountains at the Masafi pass. By this point, we had already entered (and maybe exited) the Ras al-Khaimah emirate (the map of the UAE's east coast is comparable to a jigsaw puzzle, full of enclaves and exclaves of several emirates. You can drive through three or four emirates and not even realize it, since they are largely not demarcated). Really, the only way to tell if you are in a different emirate is by how landscaped and wealthy the area/town you are in is. For example, in the city of Khor Fakkan (which I would later visit), which is an exclave of the oil-rich Sharjah emirate on the Gulf of Oman, many of the neighborhoods are well-maintained and landscaped. In the less well-off outskirts belonging to Fujairah, it is very easy to see the economic disparities between the two emirates.
Anyway, from the Masafi pass we drove to the city of Dibba, the northernmost city on the east coast before the border with Oman's Musandam peninsula. On a clear day, one can see the coast of southern Iran from Dibba. Dibba is also divided, with one section belonging to Fujairah, one belonging to Sharjah, and one belonging to Oman. Our tour guide told us that when the borders of the emirates were being decided in the 70s, officials drew them based on which sheikh a family was loyal to
While in Dibba, we stopped for photos in front of its large mosque (the largest in the Fujairah emirate) before driving back down the coast to the Bidya mosque, the oldest in the country. Though it was built originally in the 15th Century, it is hard to tell its age because of the mud brick material it was built out of. It's also only about 570 square feet, which makes it one of the smallest mosques in the world (an unusual record for the extravagant UAE). The setting is made unique as the mosque is surrounded by two watchtowers on surrounding hills. We couldn't go inside the mosque, which is still fully-functioning, but we walked up the hills and explored the watchtowers and enjoyed the views from the top.
From there we had a short ride back to the industrial port at Fujairah and a late lunch on the ship. Over all, I liked Fujairah and would recommend it as a day tour for someone from Dubai (it is only 1-2 hours away by car). Though there's not much to do here, it is much different than the UAE's bigger and richer cities and provides an increasingly harder to find look into the country's past. Tired from a long day, we retired not long after the sunset over Fujairah's towering mountains.