Central Asia Travel Diary

After a sleep-in to recover from yesterday's long day, Andy and I had a great buffet breakfast at the hotel.  Andy had done quite a bit of walking around Dubai before I arrived yesterday, including the fascinating area around Dubai Creek with its wooden dhows, small passenger ferries, mix of old Islamic architecture with modern glass-and-concrete skyscrapers, and so on.

Therefore, we decided that it would be a good idea to explore the United Arab Emirates (UAE) outside Dubai.  I organised a small rental car, and although it was not possible to set off before 11 am, we had a great day exploring the variety of the UAE.

We began with the short but slow drive to Dubai's neighbouring emirate to the immediate north, Sharjah.  Sharjah has some wonderful imaginatively designed new buildings, set in sharp contrast to a heritage area with beautifully restored traditional buildings near Sharjah Creek, which itself is a fascinating and  colourful working port with wooden dhows lined up alongside the street and cargo being loaded and unloaded right onto the footpath.

From Sharjah, we drove north to a much less developed emirate, Umm al-Qaiwain.  This is a sleepy, low-rise emirate with fishing boats, a well preserved fort, and a main street with single storey shop-houses, a stark contrast to Dubai and indeed a vision of what Dubai used to be like before rapid development began about 30 years ago.  A short walk around Umm al-Qaiwain took us to a ship repair yard before we drove inland to the camel racing track, where we saw a variety of pampered thoroughbred camels grazing on the sand dunes.

Driving further inland took us into "serious" sandy desert, with sand drifts blowing across the road as a we proceeded.  A highlight of the trip was a group of wild camels grazing right beside the road among the xerophytic vegetation – a great photo opportunity, of course.

Our drive continued a large circuit, first heading east to the town of Dhayd but then turning towards the south as the road continued.  We crossed the border into Oman, using a road that did not require passport checks – quite legally, fortunately, as we did not have visas for Oman.  The 65 kilometre drive south to Bureimi was wonderful, a real highlight of the day, as it wound through rocky hills, across wadis, past canyons and through stunning desert vegetation.

We entered the UAE again at Al-Ain, a large oasis town that is contiguous with Bureimi in Oman.  Although it was dusk by this time, we were hoping to visit the camel markets in Al-Ain, but unfortunately they were either closed for the day, or in a different location to where we had been told, or both.  So, very pleased with the day's explorations, we headed back to Dubai along a wide and well-formed expressway, finally returning to our hotel at about 9 pm.

We had arranged for a car to take us to the airport at 10:30 pm, as we were leaving Dubai that evening to fly into Central Asia.  Unfortunately, the car did not arrive, and after quite a deal of quiet but persuasive negotiating, the hotel agreed to take us in their pick-up van.  We headed off, almost an hour late, but grateful for transport as taxis seemed impossible to find at that time of night, when Dubai seemed to be winding up rather than down for the night.  Fortunately our flight was not due to leave until 1:15 am, so there was time to catch our breath before flying out from Dubai.

Sunday 2 July 2006

In the UAE and Oman

Camel in Umm al-Qaiwain
Tiles on a mosque, Sharjah
Arid landscape, Oman