Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Saturday, November 11, 2006 08:38:52|
Arabia 2006: 9 - United Arab Emirates
Thursday, November 9, 2006
While I was out last night plates of snacks, a glass of juice and fruit were placed in my room, which served for breakfast. I was on the road at 9 AM headed for El Ain and Oman. The well-marked freeway gradually narrowed from 9 lanes each way to 3 as traffic became lighter. Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi does not appear to have bad traffic problems. It is also a much greener city.
The Chev Lumina proved comfortable and a good highway vehicle, although it tended to float a little at over 150 kph so I held it to around 140, about the average speed. The highway was lined with trees & flowers on the sides and down the median. Beyond the trees the dunes of the desert began. There were a number of rest stops along the highway with toilet facilities - all spotlessly clean and well organized.
It took about an hour to cover the 145 km to El Ain, a fair sized city, where I promptly got lost. After half an hour someone who spoke English was able to tell me I was in Oman, and had been for some time. There was no formal border crossing. Another stop at a hotel to ask directions got me onto the right road for the coast of Oman.
A long way down the road was a checkpoint. It is the most lavish border post I've seen - a huge, round building with a massive dome, held up by marble and granite pillars. The floors were marble and the counters polished granite. It took only a few minutes to get cleared through, but the next check was for Oman car insurance. As I didn't have it, I was sent back to the immigration palace I'd just left to buy it. There was an insurance agent inside who was happy to sell me the minimum 10 days insurance for $60, making this a very expensive short trip through Oman!
The road was two lanes and traffic light, but construction is well underway to straighten and widen the road to 4 lanes. As soon as I entered Oman I was in mountains, which lasted almost to the coast. Once near the coast a four lane divided highway headed back into the UAE - a very easy border crossing. I had thought of staying in Fujeirah, as I'd heard it was developing a tourism industry, but the only hotel I saw there was a Hilton on the way into town. Fujeirah, the capital of the emirate of that name, is a major container and bulk terminal port.
Continuing up the coast I was beginning to think I was not going to find a place to stay, as only small towns showed ahead on the map, but in Khorfakkan I spotted The Oceanic Hotel in front of the beach. It is an aging hotel, but the beach on the Arabian Sea is beautiful sand, and there is a huge swimming pool. The restaurant food and service were not great and I couldn't make the internet work, however the room was comfortable and it did the trick for the night.
Friday, November 10, 2006
The included hotel breakfast was by far the best of the trip, making up for dinner last night. I was on the road by 8 AM headed the rest of the way along the Arabian Sea Coast There were some smaller hotels along nice beaches, and a huge new Le Meridien Hotel but little else in the way of development. There are few foreigners on this coast, its largest distinction are the huge breakwaters built to create container ports. The UAE are hedging their bets in case an altercation with Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz to shipping. Having Arabian Sea ports eliminates this problem. There was a plan to build an oil pipeline across the country to insure oil exports would not be interrupted, but it has been put on hold. Radio stations on this side are in Arabic, but it was interesting to listen to the news - so many English words are used that I could actually get an idea of what was being discussed.
There were various Dibbas on the map - Ras Dibba, Rul Dibba and plain Dibba, so I swung off the coast road to explore. There is serious money being spent here on new government buildings, library, college, and so on. The buildings are in the traditional style, and old style streetlights line the roads - it is very attractive. Women wear bright, colourful clothes but are fully covered.
The road continued along the beach, with buildings on one side and the fishing port on the other. About half way along the bay I found myself in Oman again! Oman is broken into three parts; Al Madhan is a small, circular area set into the UAE near the Arabian Coast that almost, but not quite, reaches the sea. The part that I'd stumbled into is the large chunk that includes much of the Musandam Peninsula and its offshore islands. This forms the opposite side of the Straights of Hormuz from Iran and is of vital strategic importance. In ancient times Omanis grew rich charging tolls to shipping using the straights.
The detail on the map didn't show the maze of roads in the area, so I kept trying roads and turning back if they turned into dirt. A couple of interesting towns turned up this way, and eventually I came upon a four lane divided highway - a big surprise to me as according to my map the closest was 40 km away. Working on the presumption that it must go somewhere, I headed off into mountainous terrain in what instinct told me was the right direction, eventually finding that it was the road showing on my map as two lanes. Things are happening fast in the Emirates, so the mapmakers aren't keeping up.
After passing a number of small Oasis, some with buildings & farms, I drove past Ras al Khaimah, capital of the emirate of that name, and up the gulf coast thinking that I'd use my Oman car insurance to drive to the tip of the peninsula to have a look at the famous Straights of Hormuz, and across into Iran. Just past the town of Ash Sham I came to the Oman frontier, and a huge customs and immigration post - a real surprise to me as the area cannot be accessed except through UAE, and the map showed only scattered dirt roads and one tiny town in the whole area. As my Oman visa was single entry there was no point in trying to enter so I turned back.
My plan was to stay in Ras al Khaimah tonight, but it was only noon and the city did not offer much. Even the roads are not in great shape, this being one of the less wealthy emirates.
I headed down the coast to drive out the peninsula on which the City of Umm al Qaiwain is located. There is an interesting area where dhows are being built and oil rig service boats repaired, a good sized fishing port and a neat little museum, but not a much else.
Continuing along the coast highway I passed through the tiniest emirate, Ajman, which has 100 sq miles divided into two parts - the one I was in and another embedded in Oman on the other side of the country. The political map of the area is interesting, with small blobs belonging to various emirates scattered here and there. At a distant shipyard giant oil drilling platforms either being built or in for maintenance were clearly visible.
The emirate of Sharjah was next, and I was driving through one industrial development after another. This continued through the neighbouring emirate of Dubai - a huge number of companies are manufacturing everything imaginable, including buses. The Dubai skyline changes daily - I avoided the city due to its heavy traffic, and because Marilynn & I have been there, but across Dubai Creek, an inlet, were skyscrapers cheek to jowl. The English language radio station I was listing to was advertising investment opportunities in one project after another, as were signs along the highway. Projects on the drawing board include a 10 km long entertainment complex of theatres, cinemas and other venues, plus the world's largest swimming pool. They should complement the indoor ski mountain and world's tallest building nicely!
It was a straight run from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, interrupted only by various roundabouts. Imagine 5 lanes of traffic each way moving at up to 200 kph, meeting one or more crossroads. A warning sign lets you know a roundabout is coming; one or two speed bumps (called "reduce speed bumps" on signs, and very popular throughout the emirates), and you are into a traffic circle 5 lanes across. Cars zip around the circle and shoot out onto their exit of choice. It keeps one alert! Once into the emirate of Abu Dhabi the borders of the highway were once again planted with trees - something the other emirates don't do.
It took a bit of driving around town and questions at a couple of shops to find Le Royal Meridien Hotel where I had a reservation for the 11th. They were able to fix me up with a room for tonight as well, and I was settled by 4 PM. After getting some emails done and a good Japanese dinner with sake I headed for bed.
The emirates are very international. Bill Neelin was telling me over 80% of the people living here are from somewhere else, brought in to work at everything from cleaning the streets to manning executive positions. The default language is English.
Coming from Yemen is a real culture shock. In Yemen a new car is a rarity, here a car that is not new is rare. Yemen buildings and city walls were hundreds or thousands of years old, here nothing is old and the only city walls are lines of glass and steel skyscrapers. Restaurants offer food from everywhere in the world, there radio and TV stations in all major languages, the streets are spotlessly clean - no litter anywhere and dress is usually modern.
Christmas is big in spite of the 96% Muslim population of 2,602,700. Christmas ads are continual on English language radio and TV. Life expectance is about 73 years for men and women. The literacy rate is opposite most Arab countries, with 76.1% for men and 81.7% for women.
What were called the Trucial States of the Persian Gulf coast granted the UK control of their defence and foreign affairs in 19th century treaties. In 1971 six of the states got together to form the United Arab Emirates, with Ras Al Khaimah joining a year later. The UAE's per capita GDP is on par with those of leading West European nations and its generosity with oil revenues and moderate foreign policy have allowed the UAE to play a vital role in the affairs of the region.
UAE is governed by the Supreme Council of Rulers, comprised of the 7 absolute rulers of each of the emirates. Abu Dhabi has always provided the president, and Dubai the joint position of vice-president and prime minister. Abu Dhabi is the capital.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
A very easy and leisurely start to the day, laying in bed eating a fruit plate graciously provided by the hotel and reading the Gulf News, one of the best international newspapers I have seen. It is a hefty paper in which news and business sections each has one or more pages for each of the major areas of the world. It was interesting to note that China continues to set new records - it became the world's largest exporter of steel last quarter, and its foreign reserves topped one trillion US dollars this month - 70% actually in $US. The US has only one creditor to which it owes more than it owes to China. It is a scary economy that is still expanding at 10% per year!
After walking through the park between the sky scrapers and the sea for a couple of hours I retired to an Irish Pub that has an excellent weekend brunch and about 25 brands of beer on tap. Kilkenny was the brand for the toast to my far away wife on our anniversary this Remembrance Day. Marilynn is in Canada.
Tomorrow it will be a short flight to have a look at Qatar.