20 Hours in the Desert – Abu Dhabi

I step out of the airport and the heat is already oppressive. Its only 8am, it was only beginning. Having such a short time here I did a little bit of research of how to get around efficiently/cheaply and city bus was it. Little did I know apparently they don’t accept the almighty dollar or dirham in this case. They’ve moved on to the plastic card which I didn’t know where to purchase. Luckily for this trip the bus driver simply let me on the A1 bus right outside the arrivals door. Nice guy! This brought me by the Sayed Grand Mosque which was unfortunately closed on Fridays to tourists and into the heart of downtown Abu Dhabi.

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I told the driver where I was going which was the Al Mina sector, where the traditional souks are located. In particular I was interested in the fish market. There was a couple buses to get me here, but I was in the same predicament. No bus card. I lucked out twice now, jumping on heading for some fresh seafood. Dozens of stalls offering up the freshest catch of the day from lobster, crab, squid and numerous fish. A place where you can not only buy it, but have it scaled and cleaned for home or cooked up for you on the spot in one of the half a dozen or so kitchens on sight. I bought some shrimp and got them grilled up for me to eat right outside. Might as well have a fresh coconut while I wait. A perfect morning.

The heat rising and my luck worn thin, I waited at the bus stop for two buses to take me back downtown and was denied on both without a card (which I learned was only purchased at the bus station). I guess I was trudging through the thick humid air. I managed to make it downtown, but after my first denial onto the A1 bus back to the airport I gave up and hailed a cab. It was too hot and I was dripping sweat from places no one likes to. I didn’t even realize how drenched I was until I sat down. Another glimpse of the grand mosque and a more expensive ride back, it was into the air conditioning of the airport hotel. I was glad I thought to cram another pair of clothes into my carry on to change into. I would have felt bad for the person next to me on my next plane catching whiffs of that.

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In the meantime I relaxed in the bar waiting for my afternoon pick up for the desert safari. Before long a 4×4 dune basher came by for my ride to the dunes and of course to bash them. Out of the city and onto the sand. I haven’t done much in the ways of off road in any form so for me this was wild and if you’re one to get road sick, probably nauseating. A burst of speed, up and over, sliding down the other side of the steep slope sending a wall of sand over the vehicle. The feeling of flipping and rolling coming each time and at the last minute adjusted to drive down fishtailing out of the dune ready to do it again.

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We pulled into the Bedouin style camp set up for us as the sun set the sky to a red orange blaze, the sand glowing embers. Sandboards, ATVs and camels are there for the taking. I’ve ridden camels through the Thar desert, been on ATVs, but have yet to board the dunes. Grab a board with straps instead bindings, climb to the top getting a face full of sand on the way and hope it’s just like snowboarding. It’s not. The concept might be, but the friction and lack of carving ability really changes things. Probably a large lack of skill as well I was limited to going simply straight down. While I did pick up some speed there was really no controlling it and comparing it snowboarding a mountain, well it shouldn’t be. After a few runs and sure enough I ate sand. Bailed at the bottom, heads over heels and covered in a fresh dusting of sand. Perfect for sitting in on a 13 hour flight. I was finding it everywhere until I got to Toronto.

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Moving on, it was time for BBQ dinner on cushions and toes in the sand. A couple requirements for deliciousness. A spread of Middle Eastern delights consisting of fattoush, hummus, labneh, rice pilaf for some of the sides. Chicken, beef and lamb skewers all marinated differently to choose from. Then a dessert I can’t say I’ve had before. A loose bread pudding unbaked with coconut milk along with fresh fruit. I stuffed my face getting the taste of sand of out of mouth and it was time for some shisha smoking and belly dancing. Of all the oriental or foreign traditional dances I’ve witnessed this was quite different from them all or maybe I was just hypnotized by the sway of her hips. Complimented with a shisha pipe in hand, large clouds of scented smoke billowing out around me, I couldn’t think of a better way to finish off my brief time in the desert. Camping out to watch sunrise would have been great, but unfortunately it was back to the airport. It was an unexpected visit to a city and culture I knew little about and I’d like to think I left with having learnt a few things. I would be back in a few months for another long layover and looked forward to seeing another side of this spectacular city.

 

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