I explored the whole United Arab Emirates on a rented car for about 2 weeks, and I got stuck countless times on the sand trying to explore desert areas. It was awesome.
I arrived by bus from Oman at about 5am, waaaaay to early to do anything, so I just went to a park to have a nap on a bench before starting my day, a couple of hours later. After renting one of the cheapest cars around at the airport, I went to M’s place to pick her up. As we were both kinda tired (she’d come back from an early flight as she’s a flight hostess), our first stop was camping at a relaxed beach nearby, with impressive views over the skyscrapers in the background. Then we went around town to see some insanely big things that Dubai has to offer, like the worlds biggest aquarium inside the Dubai Mall, along with a huge water fountain show just below the world’s biggest building, the Burj Khalifa. Or the Atlantis, at the tip of the palm. Or even driving past the famous Sheikh Zayed road of 12 lanes along the insane skyscrapers. As I don’t really care about cities, I’ll just skip that part 🙂
Soon we were driving in the desert, and by sunset we went walking on the amazing dunes that were surrounding us. It was a bit like in a fairytale, walking on some dunes that probably never had ever walked before, in front of the immensity lying ahead of us. We spent the rest of the evening driving around small roads/dirt roads, seeing the burning flames of some oil rigs, and the continuous flow of buses transporting the workers needed for them to function. When we were really knackered, we stopped at a small village, Hameem, and slept in the car in front of the mosque.
The following day we had breakfast again in the desert, and after having another small but epic walk in the dunes, and pushing the car out of the sand it was stuck in, we found a herd of camels and paid them a visit. M was so scared at first, but when she saw me hugging the 3-4+heads-taller-than-me camels, she came by, and we had a good time altogether. She had to work the next day, so we went back towards civilization, at Yas island. Anyway, the real adventure trip starts now 🙂
So, after dropping M, I was off again. Direction? Direction no clue it was. Many Camels and sand later, I arrived to a weird sign that looked a bit discouraging. But, as I could not understand anything, I kept rally driving on the deserted (literally) road, until I reached the nearby base of a mountain that I could not wait to climb, with my traditional Omani clothes. The sand was kind of burning, so the flip flops were not ideal, but man it was worth it. After some fun climbing I reached the top. Ahhh, I love that feeling, and those views were amazing.
On my way back, I found the camping remains of a recent party, tent and loads of alcohol included. And nearby was a base for buggys: Kind of quad bikes, perfect for driving on sand, and one of the guys working there gave me a ride for free. I asked what the price for hire was, and they had no clue, which really surprised me. Everything did, however, become clear when they told me that all these buggys belong to the Sheikh, the Sultan of the UAE, and they added that he came there to party quite often, almost always on Friday. Anyhow, it was cool to have a ride on the sultan’s toy, and to see his party remains, but I had to keep going.
After arriving to a village, I parked my car, and then a while later, I got crashed by behind. So a few hours after leaving Dubai, after the police report, I had to drive back and replace the car, free of charge of course! That time, I did have a destination: Al-Ain. I got there some night, and after a rooftop dinner on top of my car (tasty chicken, even better views) I went discovering the sleeping city and its many forts. I liked it. The thing that I did not like was when I fell asleep with my feet protruding through the window, I got bitten by 5 mosquitoes. Oh well, could have been worse.
The next day I somehow found myself driving along an amazingly perfect road leading to the top of a nearby mountain, on the border with Oman, and the fresh air and beautiful views made the pleasant journey even better. Oh, btw, its crazy that there are some hotels there cause the location is spectacular.
I had seen in the map that a dirt road was going nearby the border to Oman, and later Saudi Arabia, across through the middle of nowhere among dunes and emptiness, and I just had to go there. Direction? South. After a looong drive, (exciting though), I got to this road over dunes that just seemed like it was never going to end, with the Omani fence border constantly in sight about a kilometer eastwards. I was kinda worried about petrol, as this road really seemed to be in the middle of fucking nowhere. So I stopped and asked the only people that I’d seen in a very long way, some workers having a snack outside their pickup. They told me that the road went nowhere, and that there were no public petrol stations, as only pickups and trucks from the oil companies and army ever went there. That sounded awesome, so I drove about 1h backwards to put in some petrol, and to do the same road again, this time all the way, exploring whatever piece of road I could get my eyes on.
At some point, I was taking some pictures on this side road, when an army pickup pulled over and told me that if I drove a few hundred meters further I would get arrested by the Saudi Arabia army and go to prison. They also told me that the main road ended up 1km further, and that even with a 4×4 it was a very hard ride and they would often get stuck, so that my only option was to go back. And yes, the guys were right, cause a few minutes later the pavement turned into soft sand, and it was indeed, mission impossible. Except that this one was really impossible, unless you had a few years to spare to push your car through.
There was a gate on the right, on the never-ending long fence, and 2 security guys approached me and we started talking. The zone was environmentally protected (AKA oil rigs), so it was a restricted access like the rest of the country. We did actually see a few pick-up trucks entering, belonging to the oil companies, with all the people onboard really surprised as no one had ever seen a tourist there. After a while, they two guys invited me in to have coffee (inside the restricted access area), and told me about their own adventure: they were from Nepal, and had been hired to come work there for 2 years. They had already been there, in that same spot, in the same hut, without even going away (except the once a month 3-4h shopping trip and back). 1 whole year surrounded by sand and nothing else. The company would pay their ticket back to Nepal after 2 years, and the miserable wage did not allow them to go back beforehand. They also told me that a security guard had died there a month ago from a scorpion bite, and that was the reason that they had a cat at their place, as they chase them away, along with mice (and the snakes that follow them). They lived in a very small place, which honestly scared me a bit. They did not have fresh food available except a few things in their small fridge (which only worked sometimes), and their electricity came from the solar panels on the roof, which sometimes stopped working, and no one in the whole area knew how to fix them. They also had a wind generator, but as it was broken too, it was useless. They told me that in the summer they reached 50+ degrees when the air conditioning was not working because of the electrical problems, and it was very, very tough. Also, their newest newspaper was from 2 years ago. Oh, and the conversation with these guys changed my life. At least now it seems, because I have a broken knee. They told me that I should visit Pokhara in Nepal, that it was very beautiful, and that I should stay there for a few weeks. That was the only reason why I came here actually! I told them that there was no way that I would stay still for a few weeks unless it wasn’t in Cambodia or Vietnam. Funny life tricks… Now I’m stuck here for a couple of weeks cause of my injury. However, I do love the place, and I’m having a good time. Like a few minutes ago I was talking with some buddies and they gave me a letter from the 5 girls I was traveling. And it’s quite relaxed. Actually, I’m pretty sure that something really cool will happen soon!
So when I finally did leave, I gave them some local newspaper that I had with me, along with 2 bags of capsicum peppers. Man, you should have seen their faces… they were sooooo happy, and wanted to give me something back. It was tough convincing them that I would not accept anything back, but I managed.
Fast forward, after sleeping in the desert and countless dunes later, I tried to find the beach to the west of Abu Dhabi. I realized then that the whole country is inaccessible to civilians, and completely fenced. Sometimes it’s very straight forward, and they say that there are oil exploration/excavation ventures, protected with army officials on carrying bloody big weapons, and sometimes it is disguised in an environmental protection mask, which is of course, bullshit.
Anyway, I made it, and along the way I found some ultra-millionaire villas, with plenty of big wooden boats only used a couple of times a year for racing. So after washing my clothes in the sea, having some watermelon on my ride and dodging the seemingly never ending array of speed bumps, I was off into the desert, this time for real.
My destination was Marwan Town, which I had seen in Google Maps with my sister, a few weeks before then. It was amazing reaching that exact place, and after a tour of the palace and long talk with the soldiers defending it, I went to the hospital for a visit. When I was there, I did not find anyone to visit, so I went into the streets and played cricket with some local guys for a while. I could not sleep, so I kept driving through dunes and dodgy roads until I got to this very special looking road, surfing along dunes.
Believe it or not, at around 2-3am, I found a fortress, a castle in the middle of the desert, illuminated with beautiful lights with a charming fountain. Apparently, I had reached a super-luxurious resort, and I took the occasion to read about the local culture in some books that I found. Actually, I even took the occasion to fall asleep on their parking. The next day, I found the road that I had been in a few days before, the one were the pavement suddenly transformed into sand. I was about 25-30km away from that spot, and I was so tempted to walk the whole way. After a talk with some workers, to which I gave some oranges and raisins, I decided that I would do something else. Man, feeling the heat a few hours later, I was so happy that I chose this option.
So that day I spent it just zigzagging my way through plantations, chilling wherever I felt like, sleeping in the car with the AC on, getting free wifi from hotels, and surfing some dunes. Oh, and going into many many roads that were privately owned by the oil companies, so a few kilometers in, when I would see the No Access sign, I would just turn around.
I’m getting kind of hungry, so I’ll finish this off by saying that I did find a nice beach with corals, on the west of the country, very close to Sila, on a dirt road. And one of those mornings I woke up in an unbelievable mist by a harbour.. just like in a fairy tale. Back in Dubai late at night, I went straight to my favorite spot: Al Mamzar beach, and fell asleep in a parking. I got woken up at 3:30am by a police patrol who wanted to check if I was ok. At first, I did not understand anything, as we were completely surrounded by a thick mist, and the lights made it seem as if I was in the middle of the desert. But I did eventually get where I was, and after a chat with the policemen, they gave me a bag full of food from a nearby fast food!!!! So the menu that night was chicken sandwich with… I forgot what, I was too sleepy. And the weirdest thing was when I woke up a few hours later in the morning, with a clear sky and bright sun, and my car was surrounded with big pickups pulling water scooters. The beach was also filled with stands and more water scooters. Apparently, I had parked on the front row of the Dubai, Jet-ski/water scooter championships. Man that was weird. But awesome.