Day 3 – The intention on days 3 & 4 was to travel to the other side of the ‘peninsular’ by going off-road (not exactly off road but certainly on dirt tracks) over the mountains and through the Wadi Bih (valley / dry riverbed). We would stay overnight on the other side, investigate another Emirate’s coast, Fujairah, and then come back to Dubai. The route would take us from UAE into Oman and then back into UAE.
We set off early and headed for the entrance to the Wadi which is found close to the city of RAK, Ras Al Kaymah (white route in image below). We reached the border, fully expecting to be waved through after a quick look at our documents (allegedly, normal behaviour). We were faced with a group of miserable looking, armed, border guards who had just allowed a farmer through to get to his farm. We told them where we were heading and were told we cannot go because the border is closed. An outbreak of pigeon English followed, which achieved nothing, the border was closed, nobody knew why but we weren’t getting through. The girls decided to (rather bravely, I thought) use the border post toilet and as they were on their way over there I decided a photo might capture the moment. Big mistake!
As soon as the photo was taken the border guard’s attitude suddenly took a nose dive and I was being harassed by the one who had five words of English (the rest had only three) to hand over my camera because “no picture!” was allowed. I could understand if we were standing at a serious military installation but this was the most Mickey Mouse border you could imagine. It was a border between lots of nothing belonging to the UAE and lots of taller nothing belonging to Oman. The security installation consisted of four tin huts, a toilet, a very lonely barrier over the road (but no fence either side, so you can just walk around the barrier), about five guards, three goats and a donkey. Sophisticated electronic equipment consisted of an old radio, a broken television and a kettle. I didn’t consider that a photo of such an installation was likely to be considered a significant breach of security and put the UAE in danger, but I was clearly mistaken. The guards remained firm that I was either going to delete the picture or spend the rest of my life tied to a rock, or possibly just be shot there and then. No doubt, I had misjudged the serious threat to the UAE from bands of terrorist goats who, armed with my picture, would be able to mount a determined attack on this border post and then go on to lay claim to the rest of the UAE! I was forced to delete the picture while the guard watched but the general mood remained one of “anything could happen” and so the sooner we got out of there the better. Faced with this immovable “jobsworth” border situation, we had no choice other than to retrace our steps and make our way around to the other side using the normal UAE road system.
On the way around we took a diversion to see what was billed as the “Khat hot springs”. We found no springs, hot or otherwise, but we did find an intriguing hotel perched on a hill overlooking the village. What an interesting place this was. It resembled one of those palaces that are built by gypsy families in the middle of nowhere by way of showing off to their friends. This was billed as a four star “hotel & spa” but was completely deserted. The quality of the construction was truly awful and had obviously been done on a budget, which in itself was refreshing to see in a country where the budget is the last thing they worry about. According to some guide books it should have opened years ago but was still being fiddled with to fix building problems and was clearly not open. Despite the strangeness of the place the staff were straight out of the “Good Hotel Guide”. Excruciatingly excellent service abounded. All we ordered was a cup of tea but we must have been wished a beautiful life by everyone from the manager to the cleaners. We asked to see the “spa” and were given the sort of tour that minor Royals might be used to. We saw the ‘precious stones’ treatment room, where you sit in a dentist’s chair covered with coloured gems placed at strategic points on your body and listen to whale song or other earthy tunes. Presumably until you confess? A magic moment in the spa was when the very eager tour guide asked the spa receptionist whether it was okay to go into the women’s section, was anyone using it. The receptionist gave a look that said “Don’t be thick, when was the last time anyone used the place!”. The manager later explained that the hotel would be opening “When His Highness agrees”, which suggests there might be a few political problems in the background, but in the meantime they were practising by acting as a hotel for crew of the cargo flights coming into RAK. It was sad to see such dedicated and well meaning staff stuck in a crappy hotel in the middle of nowhere, but they seemed happy. Here’s a view of Khat and of the hotel swimming pool.
We continued our winding road to Dibbah and were then on the red route (see map photo above). The border crossing on this side consisted of some guy waving us through while chatting to his mate. No barrier, no papers, no problem. Presumably the national security code red situation in the mountains had abated during our journey from RAK to Dibbah! I didn’t try taking a photo though, just in case.
On the way to the hotel, one of those lucky circumstances gave us very interesting diversion to see a fish market in action. I’m told that the fish are caught by larger boats out at sea from whom smaller boats purchase what they think they can sell and then a swarm of these smaller boats arrive at the harbour with their goods displayed on the desk of the boat and the buyers start haggling.
We left the fish market and headed to the hotel – Golden Tulip, Dibbah. This was also deserted but has a wonderful location at the end of the bay trapped between the mountains and sea. The rooms were fine and Dorota managed to get the price halved. We enjoyed fish for dinner, of course, and a walk on the beach collecting sea shells for Zosia. (In the photo below, taken from the fish harbour, the hotel is a sort of beige blob under the peak about a third in from the RHS)