Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Musandam Boating–Dibba

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Mark and I never get tired of being on the water, and fortunately there is plenty of it here. The UAE and Oman have long stretches of beautiful, and accessible, coastline. So I was happy when Mark decided to book a Musandam Dibba boating trip for us to take with Tom and Dana.

Before it got too hot, we wanted to see the Indian Ocean side of the Musandam peninsula and compare with boating in the the Strait of Hormuz at Khasab. We also thought it would be fun to spend some time in the little town of Dibba. We planned to drive up on Thursday, go boating Friday, and hopefully stay Friday night and drive home Saturday, making a weekend of it. However, when Mark tried to get us into the Golden Tulip Resort in Dibba they were fully booked. This has happened before; we don’t seem to be able to make our plans far enough in advance to get into that popular hotel.
We considered going to the Fujairah Rotana at Al Aqah Beach resort up the coastline right on the beach, but Mark found a deal he couldn’t pass up at Rotana’s Nour Arjaan in town. It’s a business hotel, and it made sense since we were going out on a boat anyway. We decided to stay only Thursday night, and drive back to Abu Dhabi after the boat cruise.
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For Mark, the hardest part of planning the trip was making arrangements to get through border control. Dibba is divided into three parts, each the a different government, one Oman and two UAE emirates.  Within the past year, the Omani side of Dibba has tightened security, and they require a confirmed hotel or dhow cruise reservation, along with copies of passports and visas, to be submitted to them by the hotel or tour company at least 48 hours in advance. This wouldn’t have been a problem if we were staying at the Golden Tulip. It wasn’t really a problem for the dhow company either, except that they wanted payment in advance, and they don’t take a credit card payment over the phone or online. Most people come from Dubai, and transportation is part of the package, so everything is arranged in Dubai. Musandam Dibba wanted Mark to make a direct deposit to an Omani bank, which would be an international transfer. This is not easy, and after several tries, phone calls, and some exasperation, Mark said, “Can we just pay cash when we get there?” OK, they finally said.
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The Three Dirhams, enjoying their weekend.
By the end of the work week we were all looking forward to it, especially the guys, who needed to blow off some steam. At Jebel Ali near Dubai we took a wrong turn, leading us to a series of dead ends before finally off-roading to return to the highway. With all the construction and confusing signage in this country, you learn to expect it. With each passing month, our vehicle navigation system becomes more and more irrelevant.

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The bar has live music on Saturday afternoons

Nevertheless we arrived in Fujairah within three hours, and decided to put off checking into our hotel in favor of going to the Breezes Beach Bar at the Hilton Fujairah for the sunset and full moon rise. It’s one of our favorite places, and we go there every time we are in Fujairah.

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Hellooo, moooon!

I posed on the beach with a 7-year-old British boy who was playing alone on the beach while his parents enjoyed their shisha at the beach bar. After leaving Breezes we stopped at the hotel’s Central Pub, where Mark revealed a hidden talent – darts.

The next morning, before we left for Dibba, I went up to the Rotana pool deck on the 20th floor to to view the Grand Mosque under construction behind the hotel, which I’ve been photo documenting each time we’ve been in town. Mohammed’s wife Cindy Davis once told me that every emirate in the UAE has, or is building, its own version of a Zayed Grand Mosque, named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the late President who is considered Father of the UAE.

There are two Oman border crossings in Dibba, and the one we needed to go to, which we did eventually find, was the second one on the Corniche near the fishing port. When we got there, we saw a lineup of large tour buses waiting to be checked in. Happily there was no line for autos, so Mark handed over our four passports, a very friendly official with a big smile checked his list, and we were through. Tom was disappointed that we didn’t get another UAE exit stamp, but this time it wasn’t needed. We were in a small fishing village, and there was really no place to go from here by road.

Map picture
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The dhow cruise includes snorkeling, lunch, and fishing. It was a very breezy day; weather predictions had been calling for rain for several days and it looked like a system was moving in. Still, it was sunny enough but not hot, actually perfect weather.

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Our dhow was one of several, all with different looking populations. One boat had all white people wearing skimpy bathing suits (especially the men) who turned out to be mostly from Eastern Europe. Another was the Arab dhow. Everyone on our boat, except for the four of us, was from the Philippines or South Korea. There were several families.
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The treacherous road to Zinghy Bay
We cruised out along the coast, past Six Sense Zighy Bay, a high-end spa resort. I’ve heard about this wonderful place from several people, but because neither Mark nor I are into the spa lifestyle, we will probably never go there. The most interesting thing, to us, is the road. Most people, unless they are die-hard 4-wheelers, park on the other side and have a hotel car pick them up and take them over. I wonder how it compares with Jebel Akdar?
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We continued past several small islands and anchored in a cove, sheltered from the wind. There were several skiffs there as well, helping with anchoring and taking people for banana boat rides.

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Mark snorkeled, and he saw some fish and coral but because it had been windy out at sea, the visibility wasn’t good. I brought my Zoggs swim fins and goggles, so I swam to shore and explored. Tom tried in vain to get a ride on the banana boat, and Dana took a swim and then retired to the dhow and worked on his Sudoku puzzles.

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Lunch was a buffet – vegetables in yogurt, rice, weird rubbery fries that we don’t think were potato, meat in sauce, salad,  and a piece each of grilled chicken and fish. After lunch, as the boat motored out to sea, Dana and Mark enjoyed a Cuban cigar and we drank beers that Tom had somehow gotten the dhow crew to sell to us.

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The fishing was uneventful, except for two fish caught by a crew member. We motored back to Dibba, where we could see the weather front approaching; the wind was picking up again. When the sea and sky become the same color, and sea birds come to sit, you know that rain is coming.

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As we entered the harbor, there was a large crowd gathered, and we could hear shouting and talking. What was going on? A fish market! After disembarking, we went over to take a look. There were piles of fish, fish in crates, and fish being unloaded from skiffs. Every kind of fish that swims the Indian Ocean must have been caught. It was fascinating.

But it was also sad. WARNING: this will disturb some people.
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There were several sharks caught, and as one was hoisted up I noticed something slipping out of it. It was a shark pup! Unfortunately, dead. I said something, and the man who was holding the shark started talking, people started looking, and soon there was a family gathered around. They pulled the dead pup shark out and showed it to their children, trying to get the youngest son to hold it. But he wasn't having any of it.

Then, I noticed that other sharks had pups too. I wonder, why don’t the fishermen pull out live pups and throw them back into the sea? It can be done, because I looked it up and found a video on Youtube where some American fisherman did just that. Once shark pups are born, they swim away from their mothers and fend for themselves, so they would survive. Maybe they didn’t know they were in there until it was too late.

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There are many species commonly found on dinner tables in the UAE that are being overfished, including Hammour, Spangled Emperor, Painted Sweetlips, and Kingfish. I couldn’t find any information on overfishing or fishing regulations in Oman. I assume it is different there, on the open Indian Ocean, than in the Arabian Gulf. Still, we should remember that overfishing is a worldwide problem.

Having said all that, it was a great experience to see a Friday fish market in Dibba, and it would have been a real treat to eat some freshly caught fish in one of the local restaurants. Fishing is their livelihood and culture, and I hope that it continues for many more centuries.

The six-hour Musandam Dibba boat trip was a good value, relaxing, and well worth doing. It wasn’t like boating with Abdul Hameed, but then it isn’t fair to compare.

Thanks for reading, and please try to eat sustainable fish, at least most of the time.


Mirium Stella said...

Nice trip. Musandam Dibba is really a nature gift.

Murali Kobonaty said...

Musnadam oman is an great and peaceful adventure.. dont miss it

Anonymous said...

Great article, but wondering where the "Arabian Gulf" is. Maybe you meant the Arabian Sea, since the only Gulf in that region is Persian!

Anne Thomas said...

It's usually called the Arabian Gulf these days. In fact I was just reading a 1981 National Geographic story about Oman and it refers to the waters as the Arabian Gulf. But it's all actually part of the Indian Ocean.

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