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دولة الامارات العربية المتحدة (United Arab Emirates) - In with the New, but out with the Old?


Travel pictures from the United Arab Emirates

by Dr. Günther Eichhorn


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In November, 2005 I attended a United Nations/ESA/NASA Workshop on the International Heliophysical Year IHY 2007, held in the Middle East in the oasis Al-Ain. This was the first time I visited an Arab country for any length of time. I flew into Abu-Dhabi. From there I was picked up and driven 160 km (99 miles) to the oasis of Al-Ain, on the border to Oman. The highway from Abu-Dhabi to Al-Ain has trees and other plants on the median, as well as lights along the whole length.

Abu-Dhabi is one of the seven Emirates that form the United Arab Emirates. It is one of the wealthiest ones. Abu-Dhabi and Dubai are the most modern of the Emirates. They try to attract and build up industry in preparation from the time when the oil runs out in the Persian Gulf.

The conference was in Al-Ain. Most of Al-Ain is very modern, it seemed as if most of the buildings and roads are not more than 15 years old. The Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas) are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Al-Ain loves traffic circles, it has over 200 of these. Many of them are decorated with big statues of strange things, like coffee pots. Traffic is not very heavy, I never saw any congestion. One thing that is immediately obvious is the greenery. The city (as well as the whole highway from Abu-Dhabi to Al-Ain) is full of plants. In this desert climate, this means that every little plant needs its own water supply. There must be many hundreds of miles of black plastic tubing in Al-Ain, and much more on the highway between Abu Dhabi and Al-Ain.

Cars where about 2/3 Japanese and South Korean and 1/3 German (mostly Mercedes and BMW). I saw only 3 or 4 American cars, including one Ford Mustang and one Corvette.

The food was excellent throughout the whole trip. I gained about 8 pounds in weight because of that    :-\).

Taxis are quite inexpensive and abundant, so you don't need a car in Al-Ain. I took a cab up to Jebel Hafeet, the only mountain in the vicinity. You have a great view over Al-Ain from there. Another trip was to Buraimi, the Oman part of the Oasis. Oman is not as rich as the Emirates, since it doesn't have oil. But Buraimi is not very different from Al-Ain. You can cross the border without any checks in either direction. The border checks are done further into Oman, in order to keep the two parts of the Oasis together as much as possible.

One of my excursions was a desert tour with camel ride. It was a bit expensive (~$120), but interesting. The first stop on this trip was the camel market. Camels still are very important to the people there. They also have camel races, but I didn't go to see them. From the camel market we drove out into the desert for about ½ hour. The tour operator had a camp in the desert. We first drove around the area in a 4WD Toyota through the sand dunes. Then we went on a sunset camel ride. After we got back, we had dinner at the camp. The food was again pretty good. The other two tourists went back to their hotel at that point, I stayed overnight. They had lit a small fire and brought me a water pipe (sheesha).The tour guide and the camel driver both went home and I ended up al one in the desert. I watched the fire for an hour or so, smoking the water pipe, and then slept outside, since it was pretty warm. Unfortunately Al-Ain wasn't really far enough away, so the sky was pretty bright from the city light. Seeing the stars from a desert camp still was very scenic, I enjoyed that short trip very much. In the morning I went for sunrise camel ride, and then had breakfast at the camp, before returning to Al-Ain.

Modern as Abu-Dhabi is, you can still see some of the old Middle East. Many (but not all) women still observe the Hijab and wear the long, black shapeless dresses, a head cover and veil. Polygamy is still practiced there, a man can have up to 4 wives. And on Fridays, the Muezzins call from the numerous mosques almost continuously. Mosques are everywhere, from very small ones like in the Al-Ain oasis to the large one in the center of Al-Ain.

One thing I was a little concerned about was the question of alcohol. It turns out that in Abu-Dhabi, the hotels have bars, but there are no regular bars in the city. The hotel bar at the Al-Ain Rotana hotel was very good. They had a trio of Cuban women, called Las Corrales, playing music and singing. They were really good, I enjoyed their music very much.

The United Arab Emirates are not representative of more traditional Muslim countries as far as I can determine. Most of the emirates are very westernized and modern in most aspects. It was an interesting trip, unfortunately I didn't have time to see more than just a small part of Abu Dhabi (Al Ain). It would have been interesting to see more of the other emirates.

See the separate page with a few birds:

Birds in United Arab Emirates