Right now, I’m sitting in a building of sorts at the Jebel Shems Heights Guesthouse in the Hajar Mountains in Oman. It’s a beautiful, almost lunar landscape. There are few people around, no Internet connection, and not much to do once you’ve been for a hike and the sun is setting, so it’s a perfect opportunity for a couple of catch-up posts once we do connect again.
Guinea pigs of travel
If you’ve read this blog before, you likely know that we’re big supporters of Gadventures when we travel. This time it’s a little different. We, along with the others in our group, are guinea pigs of sorts as Gadventures is running this particular trip for the first time. (We actually signed up to be guinea pigs earlier in the spring, but they weren’t ready for live animal testing yet.)
The group is fairly typical for Gadventures, three Brits, two Aussies, one American with Katy and I representing the Canucks. After meeting up with our guide, Alex (Lebanese), we started off with a quick city tour.
Oddly enough, the city tour covered much of what we had done on our own the night before. It’s often more interesting with a guide who can provide a little more detail and context, so we were more than happy to see it again. We started with visit to the Dubai museum – small but worthwhile – in the Bastakia quarter, before taking an abras across the creek to visit the souks. Apparently the Indians control the textiles, the Iranians the spices, and everyone has a finger in the gold market. The gold souk provided one of the weirder “sites” we’ve come across in our travels: the world’s largest gold ring, as certified by the good people of Guiness.
During a stop in a spice store run by some very friendly Iranians, I learned that dates were an important staple in the Arab diet, that they are still eaten frequently and as part of festivities, and that they are not my thing.
Our next stop was lunch at Madinat Jumeirah, the “Vegas souk” we had visited a couple of days earlier. This also gave us a chance to take a few more pictures of the Burj Al Arab. In our first visit to the area we spent about half an hour walking around looking for the best place to take a picture of the Burj. It turns out that we had been within 10 meters without realizing it. So, we now have some variety.
Bonus stop: Abu Dhabi
When we booked this trip, the original plan had been to spend the weekend prior to joining the group in Abu Dhabi and then finish with a weekend in Dubai. Unfortunately, after booking the trip, we realized that as Canadians we couldn’t get double entry visas to the UAE. Katy spent weeks on the phone and exchanging emails with Gadventures to sort out an alternative plan. (If you visit the Gadventures description of the trip we’re on, you’ll find an “update” about Canadians taking the tour… that’s us.) In the end our itinerary changed and it looked like we wouldn’t get a chance to see Abu Dhabi.
When Alex told us that he had made a change to our itinerary that would take us through Abu Dhabi so we could see the Grand Mosque, we were pretty excited. There are still a few things we’d like to see there, like, oddly enough, Ferrari World where they have a roller coaster that goes from 0-240 kph in 5 seconds, but that just means we have an excuse to visit again.
To us, it’s just Grand
The official name of the Grand Mosque is Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Mosque, so you can see why it’s often referred to as the Grand Mosque, at least by tourists. Built by (well, funded by), you guessed it, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the mosque can accommodate 40,000 worshipers and is one of the few, if not the only, mosque in the UAE open to non-Muslim visitors.
Despite the size and splendor, apparently not many people actually go there to worship. Locals prefer to attend their own mosques were they can be seen by those in their community.
Land Cruisers are surprisingly stable
From Abu Dhabi we headed out for a night in the desert. We switched from a van to a coulple of 4x4s at a gas station and headed off the main roads into the desert. Before arriving at the camp site, we did a little off-roading in the sand. We were in Toyota Land Cruisers, reinforced with roll bars, which was both comforting and disconcerting at the same time. At first glance, I would have thought that the centre of gravity in the land cruisers would have been far too high, especially when you start launching them off sand dunes at a 45 degree angle. It may not have had the speed of a Ferrari roller coster, but we definitely had the ups and downs.
Hot, belly dancing
Hot weather and belly dancing were the themes of the camp we stayed in that night. The camp wasn’t quite as nice as the one that we stayed at in Jordan a few years ago. That’s not to say it didn’t have facilities, the opposite actually. As convenient as it was to have access to flush toilets and a bar, albeit with exorbitant prices, it didn’t offer anything that felt authentic or that gave you a better understanding of life in the desert.
After some dinner and a quick belly dancing show, it wasn’t long before everyone in the group started packing it in for the night. It was so hot, that we were advised against sleeping in the available tents and most of us opted to sleep in a semi-covered area in the hope that there might be a bit of a breeze to keep us a little cooler.
Nope, little breeze and no respite frothed the heat. Instead of sleeping both Katy and I spent the night putting on and taking off a paper thin sheet we had, trying to decide if the little extra heat was worth it to keep the mosquitos at bay.
The upside of insomnia? It’s much easier to get up to watch the sunrise.