Into the sands
Trip Start Nov 30, 2007
34Trip End Jan 17, 2008
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The morning, however, was true to form -- pounding the pavement of Abu Dhabi's CBD. This time, over towards the Qasr Al-Husn, or White Fort, the oldest building in the city. It was a quick fly-by, but it revealed a little more attractive vista of the city. The architecture also seemed to improve; it's just really weird the super-consistent heights, although they do frame the major roads running through the downtown well.
Then, I rented a Mitsubishi Lancer and drove to the Rub Al-Khali.
Okay, maybe a little more detail is needed
The target was the Liwa Oasis, an arc of oases on the southern edge of the country, near the undemarcated (read: middle of the desert) border with Saudi Arabia. This area is also, depending on the exact boundary, the edge of the Empty Quarter, or Rub Al-Khali (which is the main desert on the Arabian peninsula).
The drive down was exciting, as the city and suburbs and traces of civilization left, and were replaced by sand. And camels! Yay! Yes, for the first time since the couple of drugged-up docile camels in the Dubai Shindhaga waterfront historic village, I saw camels. And the free-range, raised-by-Bedouin kind, too. Awesome. Unfortunately, they've decided to fence off the roadside (understandable), and plant -- and irrigate! -- date palms and other trees along the entire 150 km or so from the main Abu Dhabi road down to Hmeem, which helped prevent a real appreciation for the size of the dunes
The oasis (okay, string of oasises) was neat, to contrast the desert with the sharp edge of palms and other vegetation growing. Little one-mosque towns dotted the highway along the drive. Finally, I reached the turnoff for the Tal Mireb (or Moreeb Dune), the largest sand dune in the UAE. The dune itself was, well, kind of a letdown. It's big -- almost 300m -- and steep, at 50 degrees. There was this sort of encampment there, with a camel race track, and 4x4 areas and so on. The private camp thing kind of ruined the area.
But the drive there, oh the drive! 20 km, straight into the sands of the desert. Nothing but two lanes of blacktop in an ocean of sand dunes; it was total Wilfred Thesiger material. There was just a stark beauty, and a sense of openness and endlessness that is impossible to describe, and impossible to capture in photographs. It was just a exhilarating place to be, if only to spend a sunset there. Absolute magic.
After that, I drove another 400 or so km to Al Ain, where I am tonight, after having (barely) survived the infernal roundabouts that the authorities deemed necessary to place on every single corner.