On the Road
Sand is beautiful, surreal, stuff, I could look at it all day! Like staring into the fire it just makes endless forms and shapes, never repeating. Mesmerizing.
Freya in the Empty Quarter
You wouldn’t think the Empty Quarter was the best place to look for a hay field, but Liwa is a special place. It’s a green jewel in the UAE desert, it just appears in front of you as you come round a corner, like a mirage. "Even inside the car we could smell the sweet perfume of the grass, and when we stopped and got out it was almost overpowering ... very surreal. On the other side of the field the sand dunes rose like a barrier, making it very obvious that we were deep in the desert, yet in front of us we could see, and smell, the same drying grass that you might find in the English countryside in summer." (p149-150)
Motorway to nowhere. The UAE boasts some of the most beautiful, and least used, motorways in the world.
The mountainous region between the UAE and Oman is stuffed full of forts and watchtowers. This one is near Hatta.
The Great Tomb at Hili, near Al Ain, is around 5000 years old but would put most modern masons to shame. The blocks are so well cut you couldn't get a piece of dental floss between them. The oryx above the entranceway are elegant and artistic, in odd contrast to the human figures with their clumsily large hands and long arms (p228-9)
An abra ride is still the quickest way to cross Dubai Creek—and for 1 Dh is the best value tourist trip you will find in the city. You can cross from Bur Dubai side with the colourful textile souk, Ruler's Palace and Bastakia quarter, over to the Deira side with its gold and spice souks, in about a minute.
Most people are surprised to learn that there is a well-preserved 8th century archaeological site less than a mile from the centre of Dubai. The Jumeirah Archaeological Site is not very well signposted but there it is—a caravanserai, a sort of trading post cum camel motel, dating from the early days of Islam—with shops, sleeping quarters, a small mosque and what’s thought to be a Governor’s house, all sitting on what would once have been the seashore, now about a mile back from the coast, amongst the villas of Jumeirah. (p57-9).
Possibly the last unspoiled beach in the Emirates, Kalba beach stretches from south of Fujairah to the Oman border and boasts big skies and zero development—but is ideal for the locals to practice driving.
In a curious footnote to history, Kalba was once best-known as a refuelling stop on the Imperial Airways route from Britain to India. Today the airstrip is disused, home only to camels. (p193-4)
"The Breeze Motel and its sister establishment, the Pizza at the Sea Restaurant, are testaments to what can be achieved with cement and coloured paint. You can't do better than the guidebook description: 'a psychedelic version of the Bates Motel from the classic film Psycho, the small courtyard is elaborately decorated with a bright blue fountain , inexplicably bright red and yellow archways covered in fairy lights, and an even more perplexing grey concrete heart-shaped fountain with a stone dhow in the middle. Completing the effect of pleasant lunacy, a brick wishing-well stands at the entrance to the complex. The whole resort is overshadowed by an enormous radio pylon painted in red and white.' There you have it". (p194)
Now sadly closed to public access, Wadi Bih is a 30 mile shortcut through the Hajar Mountains from the Emirates' Gulf coast to the Indian Ocean coast, sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the Emirates. It was the scariest part of the whole trip. (p178-184)
At 3500 ft elevation, the Sayh Plateau is an Arabic Shangri-la, a hidden bread-basket which has been inhabited by the mysterious Shihuh people for thousands of years, a people believed by ethnologists to be the last remnants of the original pre-Semitic inhabitants of Arabia (p143-4)