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Published: October 7th 2009
Al Ain 450
poolside palms in case I lost my way..
Al Ain, is the oasis town in the centre of the United Arab Emirates, where for many years, tribes & locals from Abu Dhabi & surrounds, who worked on the coast for their fishing/pearl diving & trade, travelled inland to this oasis in the summer months for some cooler relief. What was once a long arduous camel ride is now a 1 & 1/2hr freeway drive from Abu Dhabi island. It nears the border of Oman, surrounded by the Hajir mountains which divides Oman & UAE....so that's a bit of background!
We headed off, zooming down the freeway, passing turban clad men wandering & squatting by the sides of the desert highway....hitching rides or doing the long walk home in the mid-day heat... past "farms"..the kind you get in the desert... penned off areas.... sand-dunes & palm lined freeways.....then giving way to the flat desert plains, which in turn gave way to the rocky mountians, rising spectacually out of the flatness. A great contrast of geography, hazy soft light with the heat & sand, and punctuating the scene are endless rows of large electric power pylons, crossing the country. This is the drive from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain &
beyond to Oman.
We drove into Oman, through the imposing border post, planted in the 'no mans land'.. surrounded by flat desert, meeting the mountains..... Border controls are not something we are used to in Australia, so as we are checked through, it is a firm reminder of being a foreigner in these lands. Stamps/ more stamps/fees paid/ eye scans (at times) armed border personnel....It is intimidating when you first pass through, but after a while you realise what a daily part of life this is for so many, working & travelling between Oman & UAE...
Back in Al Ain, after stumbling apon our hotel in the maze of streets, (where we later enjoyed the wild splashes of the water slide!), we headed up to Jebel Hafeet, the mountain peak surrounding Al Ain. It is a beautiful drive approaching sunset. After so much flatness, it was exciting to be climbing the curves of the road, cut deep into the rocky surface. Spectacular views across the plains, becoming more dramatic as darkness hit. With the mountain & summit illuminated in lighting it really was spectacular. The summit opened up to a massive carpark full of locals enjoying the views
& their family gatherings. Also, I might add, were a large group of Emirate young lads, with their customised Holden Racing Team cars, all lined up on parade, with a spread of burn out marks covering the carpark surface...a hint of what was to come once the crowds of families had gone.
Jebel Haffeet is mostly a rocky outcrop of a mountain.... but it does have one massive hotel perched up near the top!...The Grand Mecure Hotel, with views across the plains & swimming pools perched on cliff tops!
Al Ain is also know for it many oasis, situated right in the centre of town. We drove through one, but wondered why it was all fenced off, with not a lot to invite you in further? There are also many historic forts throughout the city. We visited "Jahili Fort", which has been recently restored in line with its traditional mud-brick techniques and passive cooling system. The fort was built by Sheikh Zayed the first between 1891-1898, and was used as the royal summer residence away for the coastal heat. It was a great place to visit, with informative displays & exhibitions, as well as the feeling of wandering
around in an old massive fort...we felt like desert dwellers until it became too hot & we raced back to AC of the car!
Al Ain also boasts a zoo!...well, in the middle of the desert we had to see that! It was not quiet like the lush greenery we are used to in Melbourne, and it was extremely hot trying to wander around it during the day. We were relieved to find a "train" could take us on a ride past a majority of the exhibits. From Girrafes to Lions, Zebras, Kangaroos & Emus, Gorrilas & Falcons, it was quiet somthing to see, when most of our time is surrounded by the concrete jungle.... but there was not a camel in sight!....they are all out there wandering the desert to see any time!....
More to come soon.....
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