07 April 2006

The last desert trip

We are doing lots of things for the last time in Dubai now. Mark and Martina are here, so for our last desert drive before it's too hot, and before we move on, we chose to go to Liwa oasis.

Liwa is in the far south of the UAE, on the border with Saudi Arabia. It's on the edge of the Rub Al Khali, the Empty Quarter, the biggest sand desert in the World. It reaches all across the Gulf peninsula up to Jordan and down to Jemen. We were planning to drive alongside the main track through the dunes and then maybe head over to Al Ain and into the mountains, a week-long escape from Dubai traffic into the quiet emptiness.


Stuart's Favourite Location, out in the Nowhere

So we packed the cars with food for a week, spare fuel and two jerrycans of water, sleeping bags and tents. We set off about lunchtime at a slow relaxed pace on the way to Abu Dhabi, then turned left and headed inland on a road as straight as if drawn with a ruler. 100 km further we hit Liwa oasis, a crescent-shaped line of ragged houses lining the road in between vast fields of vegetables and alfalfa.


Liwa Road, Plantations on Either Side

We struck out into the dunes, as big as we've ever seen, only to get stuck 200 yards of the road. When we couldn't get out after an hour of pushing and shoving, using sand ladders, our new inflatable jack and a lot of elbow grease, we gave up and camped in the lee of a dune.


Definitely Stuck ... But Still Enjoying the View

The next morning we went for help with the Range Rover, which wasn't stuck, and found some rope and a man with a rickety Landcruiser van who kindly helped us to get out. After that we were more careful. Obviously the combination of softer sand and a heavier car (more people and gear) meant we could not be quite as gung-ho as we normally are.


Mark's First Desert Birthday

We spent a few extremely quiet and peaceful days roaming the Liwa dunes, and then wanted to move on to Al Ain via the inland route, but were turned back at the halfway point by a fence and some intractable UAE border guards. The area is sensitive for various reasons, it being the location for oil drilling as well as a badly maintained border to Saudi. We had to make do with the long way round via Abu Dhabi and the coast road.

At Al Ain we visited Jebel Hafeet again, mostly to make use of the pool after four days of washing with a thin jet of water from the pump. What bliss to jump into endless gallons of it!


Martina is relishing the fact that there is water EVERYWHERE!

We continued on explore some of the campsites in the Al Ain area we hadn't got to before, found a beautiful waterfall and a great remote plateau overlooking the Hatta mountains, but were severely disappointed by the amount of rubbish left by previous visitors and blown in on the wind. It's an ongoing problem here, there is a general disregard for the natural environment and many people just leave their crap behind regardless of the mess they've created. We have taken to always carry rubbish bags to at least collect and dispose of what we can even if we didn't bring it.



The View across Hatta and the Waterfall

We spent the last night at our favourite spot near Hatta in a wadi far off the main track. There are pools there and at night it's quiet with endless stars.