The Empty Quarter
Abu Dhabi Travel Blog› entry 9 of 17 › view all entries
Woke up around 8AM and showeredâŚMark was off to meet w/the Chancellor over the faculty housing crisis. Went downstairs and read the paper until he returned. Read an interesting editorial berating Bush & Kerry because of an opinion that both were born with a silver spoon in their mouth and couldnât relate to the âcommon manâ. I found this interesting, not because I disagreed, but because sheikhs rule these people, an effective monarchy!
We hit the road about 11AM and struck out for
The restaurant was supposed to sit right on the corniche, but the latter is undergoing some massive reconstruction & they have reclaimed about 250 feet of additional land from the GulfâŚso the eatery no longer sits on the water!
With the corniche under construction, there really wasnât much to see, so we left.
We made some dramatic u-turns during this escapade and this is a good spot to comment upon driving in UAE. Iâve already offered some insight into how crazy it is (Mark claims its worse than
I will say that they donât simply ignore moving violations. On the highways you see these rather distinctive metal boxes (somewhat like a silver mailbox), which photograph your car if you are exceeding the 120 kmh limit. You are clueless that youâve been nabbed until its time to register your vehicle again. At this time you are presented with all the fines you incurred since last time (seems like this is every two years or so)âŚand no registration until you settle up!
In addition, every car is equipped with this sound system that blares whenever you are traveling faster than 120 kmh (I classify it as âslightly more annoying than the seat belt buzzersâ here in the States).
Anyway, our road continued along the coast, but it had changed to serious desert now, although there is green road frontage the entire way (all irrigated, about one hundred miles!). We stopped for gas outside of
Fortunately we hit another gas station 50 km later to ask directions, and this one was equipped with the western variety of toilet devices (phew!). This one also had a mini-variety store like here in the States (though curiously, no postcards but many childrenâs toys like dolls, etc.). I asked the guy behind the counter if they sold combs and he replied âyou look goodâŚyou donât need a comb. Everyone knows how windy it is in the desert.â
I was touched by this open, humorous remark, as I was readily identifiable as a âwesternerâ and believed I would encounter some degree of a cold reception outside of Dubai (this in spite of my friendly experiences in
Our desert ramble continued, and heading inland now the dunes began to grow bigger. After perhaps a hundred miles the roadside plantings disappearedâŚthough its mind-blowing to consider the irrigation system ran that far! While we only passed through two towns, they were fare sized (i.e., between 10-50,000). Not a lot of signs along the road (still in English way out here though!), and suddenly we were at Liwa Oasis, our destination. Mark & Samia have never been hereâŚthe trip was inspired by the expression of my desire to see the area due to Wilfred Thesiger having chronicled his stop here in âArabian Sandsâ.
It was about 6PM, and much like the Golden Tulip, I was impressed by the modern facilities. We had a very humorous incident at check-in. A porter loaded our bags from Markâs 4WD, but the elevator was so tiny that he couldnât squeeze his cart on and stated heâd meet us at our room. When the elevator door closed Samia burst into hysterics --- apparently she teases Mark about how they never off-load the garbage in their vehicle, and among the bags the porter had plucked (and neatly hung with a hangar) was a bag of trash! What I really adored was when she exclaimed âOh Marcoâ --- it is so sweet when she calls him this!
After we gained our rooms (and threw away the trash!), Samia wanted to rest while Mark & I ventured out in hopes of scoring sunset over the sand. Mark was anxious to head for one of the many utility roads we had espied from our hotel, perched atop an enormous dune --- both of our rooms had expansive porches with majestic views of the endless succession of dunes that is the
The road ended abruptly and we scrambled up the dunes to try and reclaim the sunâŚ..already beneath the huge pile of sand immediately in front of us. The sand is beautiful. It has a vibrant reddish hue with tiger stripes of a deeper red tint atop the multitude of mini-crests that are everywhere. The topography is incredible --- every time you scramble up over a dune, a bizarre new tableau of wind swept peaks and valleys is presented. I scrambled up one dune and got quite a shock, because just past the crest was a dizzying descent. And even got a further scare as I gingerly placed one foot over the top & sank it into the leeward side. The sand melted away under my foot, completely loose and quite unlike the hard pack on the windward side. This action created a delightful mini-avalanche that lasted perhaps twenty seconds, sand cascading down with newly created ridges quickly disintegrating before my eyes.
We took some pictures of the forsaken landscape and backtracked to the hotel.
Returned to the Liwa Hotel and after a brief respite headed for dinner. It was a buffet, which Samia is entirely fed up with (no pun intended). She successfully swayed the maitre de to bring out a simple bowl of lentil soup and a cheese sandwich. The bummer is that she requested a grilled cheese, but no comprehension was evident. We racked our brains trying to derive an appropriate instructionâŚand Mark substituted âtoastedâ --- which brought recognition and a smile. Of course when delivered, it was a cheese sandwich neither grilled nor toasted!
The buffet was quite good. Growing accustomed to the veggie + hummus appetizers (canât wait to turn Kim on to munching on mint), and it was backed by some great main course choices. Squid (not calamari!) in garlic sauce, mussels (enormous and a bit tough, but an excellent flavor) and I even sampled the dish labeled as âcauliflower & macaroniââŚMark confessed to nibbling at it as well and we both thought it was a winner!
After dinner we pinned down the location of Al Misyal bar, where âDance Bandâ performed live five nights a week. The band consisted of a dark-complexioned man, very sinister looking, on synthesizer, accompanied by two women who sang/dance. The dude occasionally sang too, and I will not soon forget his rendition of âOh Pretty Womanâ! It was funny & sad at the same time. There was an Arab and an Anglo couple in attendance besides our trioâŚbut the couple soon left, as did Samia.
Mark thought that everyone in the group was Russian and we noticed how the accents were terribly misplacedâŚappearing as if they had only memorized the lyrics and didnât understand English. How this trio wound up in the middle of nowhere performing this gig must be a fascinating story!
We left the bar about 11PM & retreated to my room for the âEmpty Quarter Spite & Malice Desert Classicâ, which Mark won two games to one. A fantastic evening. In spite of all the amazing things Iâm witnessing, the meat of this trip is the time Mark & I play cards, simply talk and catch up on life.