I’m back! While I should probably be studying for my upcoming Ob/gyn exams (practical exam tomorrow, written test on Friday), I thought I’d take some time this evening to get part 2 of my trip to Dubai up.
As I mentioned in my last post, people in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have historically lived either on the coast or in land at oases. Most of the major cities- for example Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah – are on the coast, but there are some cities that have grown up around oases in the desert.
During my trip to the UAE I visited Al Ain, the second largest city in Abu Dhabi and the fourth largest city in the UAE. Al Ain was built around an oasis: a source of water and thus agriculture in the desert. From groundwater and runoff from the mountains, farms were built where water was found. I saw a number of oases, all which were extensively planted with date trees. I did also spy one farm where they grew lush grass- animals did not graze this land, but I saw men cutting portions and carrying the greenery to livestock (I saw it being fed to goats).
At some oases I saw pens of goats, chickens, sheep, and doves (I believe these are used for falconry training). Camels, which survive with much less water in much harsher lands, were seen roaming the deserts and dunes along highways. As we drove from Dubai to Al Ain, I saw many camel farms as well as camels being ridden and camels loose in the desert. We also passed a camel racetrack!
Speaking of deserts…
A highlight of my trip to the UAE was going on a “desert safari”. My environmentalist side felt a little guilty, but “dune bashing” through the dunes in an area known as “Big Red” (technically in Sharjah) was a lot of fun.
The landscape of the desert is incredibly different from anything I’ve ever experienced. I tend to find peace and happiness in green, wooded, and wild areas, but the dunes posses a beauty that is unlike any other natural environment I’ve encountered. We went dune bashing with another friend of my brother (another native Sharjan), who has been taking people out into the desert on safari for thirteen years. Going out into the desert is what he does everyday professionally, but when I asked him what he did with his days off and his evenings he said he spent them in the desert. It’s where he’s happy and it’s where he finds peace- a sentiment I can understand. Nature, in many forms, is deeply soothing.
The UAE gets very little rain. The cities, which aren’t designed with rain in mind, handle even a small amount of rain very poorly, flooding with even the smallest precipitation. Likewise, the sand of the deserts quickly forms an impervious surface when wet, and water runs off into deep ravines known as wadis- dry riverbeds. If you’re ever camping in the desert, resist the urge to pitch your tent in a wadi- with even a small amount of rain you and your tent may be swept away in a torrent.
As someone who is named after the geologist Charles Lyell I was immediately fond of the these deep desert ravines that showed how water had eroded through many layers of rock, exemplifying the theory of uniformitarianism. I also really enjoyed the scenery as we went “Wadi Walking” through Wadi Wurayah in Fujeira.
This Wadi is home to the tallest waterfall in the UAE- I haven’t found it documented, but it’s probably 15’ max…
This is a good time to point out one of the serious problems in the UAE- garbage and graffiti. Every inch of stone at this waterfall was covered in grafitti, as you can see. A more widespread problem is garbage. I was deeply saddened (and annoyed) by all the trash that was around the waterfall and at other beautiful places. Despite the big signs warning against leaving garbage, there was no end of detritus. I saw people actively throwing cigarette cartons, bottles, and food wrappers throughout the Wadi and at the beach in Dubai. I found the litter in the dunes most demoralizing. People would camp and make bonfires and leave all of their garbage strewn about the site. There were very few expanses of unspoiled sand.
On a day trip to Abu Dhabi I visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the world outside of Mecca. Most mosques are closed to non-muslims, but this one is open to the public… as long as you follow “Mosque manners”.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is stunning. It is massive and beautiful, though the interior design is definitely not my style (perhaps I’m just used to the solemn interior design of churches, but I found the bright colorful baubles and chandeliers out of place). The flooring outside the mosque is marble, and when you take your shoes off (you’re not allowed in the mosque wearing them) the floor is surprisingly cool, despite the desert heat and sun, thanks to radiant cooling. Inside the mosque, bright carpet covers the floor, which is specially designed to be removable in pieces so that it can be regularly cleaned (in accustom with islamic rules). There are also large digital displays on the wall with 6 times listed: dawn, and the 5 times at which muslims are supposed to pray throughout the day.
As you travel throughout the UAE, you see prayer rooms and mosques tucked away. Muslims are supposed to pray 5 times a day, and while they do not have to pray in a mosque or prayer room, it is preferred. These religious areas are labelled with women’s and men’s entrances, and I believe the “mosque manners” above apply to all. Certainly, muslims can’t always make it to a mosque to pray, and you occasionally see people get out a prayer mat, clean their hands and feet, and pray in a (relatively) quiet corner on a public street.
While out in Fujeira, we stopped at the oldest mosque in the UAE. It dates from the 1400s and is overlooked by 2 towers. The architecture is very unique.
As I mentioned in my last post, UAE law is deeply influenced by Sharia law, and Muslims may not eat pork (or drink alcohol). Pork (and products with pork in them) is off limits and is kept in its own area in supermarkets. I really couldn’t get enough of these signs.
Also, while Dubai is a global city and quite tolerant, it remains relatively conservative in comparison to the western world. There are many requests for modest clothes (I awkwardly toured the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi trying to conceal my flip flops), and public displays of affection are generally frowned upon if not expressly forbidden. (Also, weekends in the Muslim world are Friday and Saturday.)
Dubai initially grew along an inlet from the ocean known as “Dubai Creek”. As time passed, the creek became used as a port for traders. As trade increased, the decision was made to develop the creek further, and it was dredged and reinforced so that it could be used for major trade. The creek remains an important port, though it is no longer the dominant port in Dubai (this has fallen to the Jebel Ali Port). Water taxis (known as Abras) shuttle people across the creek, and we took a trip across (for the cost of 1 dirham, about $0.27).
One thing you notice all around the UAE are pictures of the various sheiks that rule the emirates. Large portraits are on buildings, signs, and posters. Here’s just one example.
Part 1 of my trip to Dubai started with the Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world, so it seems appropriate that this post should come full circle. I left Dubai on the morning of the 1st, after watching New Years fireworks. No picture I took can do them justice, so here’s a video of the show.
The Dubai fountains also featured heavily in the show. I only saw them during the day, but that’s another site worth seeing! (Talk about the land of excess!)
this is seriously worth watching…