Monday, March 12, 2012

Weathering the Sand Storms

The beach at Mirfa. A little sun, a little sand, a lot of breeze.
“I wonder if we’ll see any rain this year,” Mark mused the other day. The UAE has seen a little rain this season, but none where we live. This, and the dust storms, makes for a gritty lifestyle. When I was back in the states recently, a few people asked me about the sandstorms.

One recent weekend we planned to take a weekend day trip along the coast in Al Gharbia, Abu Dhabi’s western region. Al Gharbia is noted for its dunes, wildlife, and water. The Al Dhafra Camel Festival, which I wrote about in an earlier story, is in Al Gharbia as well as the Liwa Oasis, which is also on our list for a weekend trip. Both of these are to the south, in the interior desert.

For this trip, since we were still looking for boating and other watersports opportunities, we decided to drive along the coastline. Each spring, in April or May, the two-week-long Al Gharbia Watersports festival is held in Mirfa, a beach town about an hour or so from the city of Abu Dhabi. So we decided to check out Mirfa and Jebel Dhanna, the next coastal town, another hour away.

It's a trucker's road, from the UAE thorugh Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean and back.The visitors’ guide promises hidden white sand beaches, sleepy fishing villages, and desert islands teeming with wildlife. This area is The Pearl Coast because in the past, fishing crews of all ages would sail here all the way from Dubai Creek. The pearling and trading expeditions would last up to six months. Now the scene is dominated by truck caravans traveling the highway between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, crossing an undefined border between the two countries.
Are we sure we want to do this?When the day arrived, high winds and sand storms were in the weather report. After a short debate, we decided to head out anyway. How bad could it be? We wanted a road trip, and we were prepared to spend the majority of the day in the car, anyway. We were just going, we agreed, on a scouting expedition.

We had barely made it through the roundabout at the end of our street when we began asking each other, “Is this wise?” The wind was buffeting the car, and sand was blowing across the road and already beginning to gather in drifts along the curbs.
The exit to the Interior brought back fond memories of the Camel Festival. Somehow, the road didn't feel much safer than the sand today.As we headed west on E11, I was reminded of Interstate 395 through Washoe Valley, on the way from Carson City to Reno, Nevada. There, the wind-driven snow can cause a white-out, even at times when there is no precipitation. We felt a little vulnerable in our little Honda City sedan. As we drove on, passing the exit to Madinat Zayed and Al Dhafra, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my Camel Festival adventure with the Mercers. Well. I knew one thing for sure: today, we would stick to the road.
That's a big tank. And a lot of wheels.Although the guide describes the view from the road as “unpromising,” the road itself, it turned out, was interesting enough. The wind-blown sand made patterns, and Mark enjoyed seeing the huge transport vehicles. The big highlight for Mark was seeing the twelve-axle trailer taking up a lane and a half, hauling a monster tank. We figured that the industrial looking structures we could see through the dust must be oil fields.
A three-star hotel, in the middle of nowhere.
May we offer you some Arabian coffee and dates?
Arriving in Mirfa, we saw that we would not be spending the day on the beach, so we headed for the Mirfa Hotel. The manager offered us coffee and dates (I love it!) and assured us that the weather had been clear at 10:00 a.m. and this storm would be finished in an hour or two. Inshallah. Then, if we wanted to pay a daily rate, we could use the pool facilities.
Nice bar, nice pool. We could come back and stay here.

After a buffet lunch at the Mirfa Hotel we considered heading home, but decided instead to continue with Plan A, which included Jebel Dhanna and the 5-star hotel there. What the heck, we figured, we’re out here now. Let’s complete the cruise.

Workers waiting for their bus. This can't be fun, but they must be used to it.Along the way, we passed industrial areas, where we could see wind-battered workers waiting for buses as they made their way to and from the roadside mini marts. What a bleak life that must be, living in company housing, without family. How much better can this life be than what they came from. In many cases, it’s probably a lot better. I am so often reminded of how lucky we are.

A five-star hotel, in the middle of nowhere.Things weren’t much different in Jebel Dhanna. The hotel was a little newer, a little nicer, and there were a few more guests. We had a drink, watched European men and women in skimpy swimsuits lounging and ordering drinks around the pool. The wind was moderating.
"We'll park next to the Bentley."

This can get very slippery.We headed back the way we came. While visibility was much better, the slippery sand on the road was a hazard. Some of the cars whizzing past us were coated with a kind of paste, which Mark said was to keep the sand from stripping the paint off.

I'm now understanding the scarf custom.Yes, it wasn’t the most exciting, adventurous day yet, but we did see a slice life in the UAE that we don’t see every day.

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