It seems strange to be sitting and writing a blog post about Al Ain, the Emirati desert city that I lived and worked in for 10 odd years. How do you jam it all into one blog post ? I now struggle to write about it as a travel destination, as it seems more like a home to me these days. Al Ain is located in the eastern region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and is jammed up against the border of Oman, with the Hajjar Mountain range in the distance on one side, the endlessness and foreboding dunes of the Empty Quarter heading off for hundreds of kilometres to Saudi Arabia on another side and the modern 3 – 4 lane motorways heading off to the big cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai completing the trifecta. These features make it an exotic destination for any expat, especially at first. With time however, it slowly absorbs itself into your being until one day, the heat, logic defying craziness, chaos and frontier like vibe almost become normal, to the point that I am now finding it difficult to adjust to the orderly and structured daily routines of a modern western democracy as I sit in my comfy guesthouse in Victoria, British Colombia.
The dunes around Al Ain take on a deep ochre colour at sunset, unlike the dunes closer to Abu Dhabi and Dubai
Jahli Fort … Al Ain
Dragon boating in front of the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Mosque … Abu Dhabi
Obviously it is difficult to describe 10 years of life in the UAE in a single blog post, and I have since come to realise that it is simply impossible to describe the small intricacies of life there to anyone that has not experienced it and I guess that is understandable. I always get a laugh when the standard ¨can you buy a drink there ¨ question pops up and the memories of hard partying in Dubai flood back.
Silhouette of the Emirates Palace Hotel … Abu Dhabi
Camels form a huge part of the culture and history throughout the Gulf States.
My mate Alex is a world authority on camel racing and reproduction. I learned a lot about the social structures of the UAE that stem from camel racing, both by the Bedouin and the Sheikhs. The purchase of the better camels from the Bedu by the various Sheikhs forms a type of social welfare system and the Bedu leaders are expected to share the largesse throughout the system.
This shot is the cover photo of Alexs biography, The Desert Vet by David Hardaker. A good read about a part of UAE life that most tourists or expats never get to experience. You can buy it at Amazon.
As always, this is more of a photographic than story telling blog and would not be complete without a selection of shots from my time in the UAE. Unfortunately, working traditional Arabic split work days, 6 days a week did not lend itself to taking a lot of photos. However, one of the great advantages of life in the Emirates is the opportunity to travel cheaply to a whole lot of the big wide world and most of my photo efforts went into those trips, rather than the plethora of opportunities on my doorstep.
White water kayaking, rafting and surfing at Wadi Adventure in Al Ain, where the waves seem to be coming right out the base of Jebel Hafeet !!!!!
Of course, all that work means down time is a must and the Halloween and 4th of July parties at the Muirheads place in Al Ain are the stuff of legend.
Poor little Eve didn’t know what to make of me … then again, neither did Anne-Lise or anyone else !!
While the Emirates is located in one of the worlds harshest climates and temperatures in Al Ain go beyond 50 degrees Celcius in summer, it boasts an extraordinary amount of things to do in the cooler months. Camping in the desert and wadis, beach resorts, scuba diving, skydiving, rock climbing, 4 wheel driving in the dunes, quad biking, some of the worlds best golf courses, all manner of sports, even surfing in man made resorts if that’s what takes your fancy, you name it and you can most likely find it somewhere.
Dates are ubiquitous and are traditionally used to break the fast during Ramadan. These ones are in the famous Al Ain Oasis, a place where camel journeys from Abu Dhabi to Muscat travelling the Frankincense trail would stop in the old days.
Falcons and falconry form another major part of Emirati history and culture.
The Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club played a major part in my social life. So many great stories emanated from extended periods on the deck of the 19th.
I often get asked what was the best part of living in the Emirates and my answer is always an easy one. It´s simply the people you meet. Expat gatherings in Al Ain invariably consisted of an exotic mix of nationalities and professions while a typical work day brings you into contact with another complete range of cultures. A normal work day for me was a mix of mingling and working with people from every corner of the globe. You do get to meet people with incredible stories to tell on a daily basis.
I do not think I have even touched on all the stories that fill my head about the years I spent in Al Ain, all the crazy camel vets, wildlife vets, scientists, special forces soldiers, spies, movie makers, trade commissioners, teachers, divers, journos, missile scientists, fighter pilots, helicopter pilots and engineers, professors, doctors, nurses and a myriad of others have woven a lifetime of stories into my head. Too many to be told in fact, especially in a short blog post. I even met an ex Al Ainite recently here in Canada who spent 10 years in the Emirates maintaining fighter jet ejector seats. When asked how many seats were ever ejected, the answer was zero. A typical Al Ain story for me !!
Spotlight on the clouds above Jebel Hafeet, the Emirates highest mountain and a feature of Al Ain life, especially the spectacular drive to the top.
Hanging out at the camel race track at Mezyad.
The Al Ain Air Show is a winner. This old plane was shot when I first arrived, back in 2007. The dunes in the background are dotted with 4WDs watching on for free.
The dunes around Al Ain make for creative photo opportunities. With my long work days I did not really have time to explore it as much as I would have liked but my friend Clare was happy to model her violin for me one afternoon recently.
You cannot really have a post about the Emirates without mentioning supercars, there are probably more per square foot there than anywhere. I scammed a ticket into the pits during the Ferrari Mondiale races a few years back
Ferraris racing at Yas Island, home of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
I wouldn’t say Al Ain is a tourist destination, and maybe for me that was the attraction. It certainly is not for everyone and probably best suits people with an adventurous side, who are looking for an out of the box experience that does not fit with the western ideal of normality. It certainly suited me just fine. Being able to travel to Africa, Europe or Asia with a 6 hour flight was my kind of nirvana, especially when it takes that long just to get out of Australia !! Short trips to Oman, India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Iran, the Balkans, Lebanon and Jordan are all close by and easily accessible for short breaks. I guess thats why the expats I knew were the most widely travelled people I have ever met.
Maybe my days in the Emirates are finished, maybe not, who ever knows. Given the right circumstances, I will be back there in a heartbeat !!!!