Monday, January 22, 2001
We left the city fairly early to make our way east and a bit south to the oasis town of Hatta for a four wheeling wadi adventure. We again transited the “scrub” desert; sand interrupted with tufts of brown, hardy grass, acacia trees and a few other shrubs. As we drove further the sand began to predominate and soon there are small dunes with even less grass and shrubs. Along this road, however, the dunes get really big and there is no vegetation at all. That was where we found “Big Red”.
Actually Big Red is a popular dune for sand boarding and four wheeling. It is probably the largest dune in this area, where the sand has a distinct red hue. Nat challenged us to climb to the top and we agreed that it would probably be good conditioning for the xc skiing that we’ll be doing in a couple of weeks so we climbed. We were soon tired and thirsty, plodding through the deep sand. We could easily imagine ourselves lost in the desert with blistered skin, parched throats and swollen tongues, dying for a drink. Actually, as we reached the top a four wheeler showed up with a bunch of “tourists” and snowboards. We watched as the novice skiers donned the boards and took off down the 100+ ft tall dune. It looked like fun … just that the climb back up would be a bear. Not to worry! Their driver wheeled their 4X4 around, dove over the top of the dune and retrieved them.
After an easy descent and lots to drink, we resumed our drive. We soon entered the “rock” desert. This area is just that, an almost perfectly flat plain of small, sharp rocks populated by acacia trees and little else. Technically we passed through a small part of Oman on this part of the road. There are no border checkpoints, however, and people simply come and go as they please. The rock desert abruptly turned into the Hajar Mountains. These arid, red peaks are the same ones that we passed through a couple of days earlier on our way to the Gulf of Oman. Soon Hatta come into view.
The largest oasis in the emirates, Hatta simply looks like a small mountain town to the uninitiated. It is well watered, however, by fifteen or so large wells that are drilled into the pool of water that collects under the area. Hatta is used as a quiet resort by Emaraties as an escape from summer heat. We stopped to look over the one hotel in town. The Fort Hatta Hotel is an upscale, but not extraordinary, collection of villas with a nice pool and all the facilities you’d expect. Continuing into town, we stopped at the new Heritage Museum, but it was closed as Nat says it usually is. That was a disappointment because, from the gate, the facility looked inviting.
Continuing through Hatta, we soon came to the end of paved roads. Suddenly we were driving on gravel through the mountains, dipping down into and crossing an occasional small wadi. Except for the track and an occasional road sign, we’d left most of the signs of civilization behind. This was definitely 4×4 territory, territory that Nat’s Land Rover Discovery was well equipped to handle. There had been some rain in the area and there was a green haze that frosted the landscape as grasses and other small green plants raced evaporation to complete their life cycles. Continuing on for ten or fifteen kilometers, we had one beautiful view after another of the red, red mountains and a perfectly blue sky. All this was punctuated by an occasional palm tree down in a damp area of a wadi.
Finally, we came to a very large wadi that is a favorite of locals, a few of whom were camping and picnicking along its course. Because of the recent rain there was even some running water in the bottom. It was curious that the water would appear, run for a while as a stream and then disappear, again, in the gravel. We picked a shaded spot with some good rocks for our own lunch of veggie sandwiches in Arabic bread, fruit and yogurt. Later we toured portions of the nearby wadis looking for the perfect picture of palm tree, wadi and pool of water. After a few lame attempts, we left this beautiful area to return to Dubai.
That evening we walked along the beautiful promenade on the Bur Dubai side of Dubai Creek. The late afternoon skyline was pretty and we could see the dhow coastal freighters lining the other side of the creek. We entered Bastakiya, an area where intensive renovation of a section of old houses in Bur Dubai is taking place. The mud brick and plaster walls are very graceful and there are many beautiful architectural features that will make this a real jewel when it is finished. After a short walk we came to the Dubai Museum. It is built on the site of Al Fahidi Fort and is unassuming from the outside. Inside the gates are a series of vignettes that give a glimpse into what life must have been like. Our surprise was that the final room gave way to a spiral ramp that led us underground to the main attraction. The attraction was another series of vignettes that provided a comprehensive look at life in old the old days. It was excellent.
Next, we walked through the fabric souk (market place). This was the first of many souks (rhymes with duke) we’d visit, each very different from the others. It was several blocks of shop after shop displaying fabrics of every imaginable style, pattern and color. The walkways through the souk (actually very narrow streets) had recently been provided with a beautiful, wood-framed roof that unified the appearance of the area and made it quite attractive. Even at this hour of the evening it was bustling with activity as tailors and manufacturers haggled with shop owners over prices and delivery of material to manufacture clothes.
We returned to the promenade for a light dinner in the Arabic Restaurant along the creek. The food was excellent, if a bit unfamiliar. For the main course we had chicken shawarma and falafel, wrap type sandwiches of chicken and bean respectively. For sides we had zatar manaeesh (a sort of Arabic pizza), fatoush (salad) and hommos (their spelling) with pita bread. To wash it down we ordered a variety of fresh fruit drinks that are very common here. On the way home we stopped at a Lebanese bakery for a variety of deserts that we sampled before heading off to bed.