This is my fourth entry for the A to Z Challenge.
I have called the Middle East home for nearly 10 years, the last 5 of which have been spent in the sprawling metropolis that is Dubai. I could have easily used “D” to talk about Dubai, but I find most of it so matter of fact now that I have decided to talk about a place only a 3 hour car journey from Dubai. And you will feel like you’re in a completely different part of the world as well. There are no skyscrapers, no speeding Ferraris, no boutiques or massive shopping malls. This is the Middle East that most people probably think about when they think about the Middle East.
I went with a social group – 20 of us – and we would be doing an overnight excursion to Dibba. We would arrive in the middle of the morning, take a boat from Dibba Harbour along the Musandam Coast towards Aqaba fishing village, and then climb into the Hajjar Mountains surrounding it. In the mountains we would pass the ruins of the old town – stone buildings precariously perched on the rocks – before hiking down the other side of the cliffs to a little date farm where we would have lunch and wait for our boat to take us back to Dibba Harbour. At the Harbour we would venture to our overnight camp and sleep under the stars if we wanted, before ending our trip the next morning either mountain biking through the mountains, taking a sea kayak for a ride, or possibly doing a little rock climbing. Then it was back to Dubai in time for dinner and drinks on Saturday night before work on Sunday. Yeah, work on Sunday. The Islamic Holy Day is Friday, so the weekend in the Middle East is Friday and Saturday. After 10 years, I can usually almost remember this.
After stopping to have our passports checked at the border by the world’s funniest customs officer, we drove to the harbour where our speed boats were waiting for us. The trip along the coast to Aqaba is only about 45 minutes by boat, but it can take longer if the tide is low and several of the caves are visible. On this trip we saw none of the turtles or dolphins that frequent the region, but as we pulled into the serene bay where the few houses of Aqaba rest, the Hajjar Mountain climb came into sight. Roughly only 300 meters in height, these aren’t the mountains I was used to in Canada, but are still impressive nonetheless. Funnily enough, the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world only 3 hours away in Dubai, is over twice as tall as these mountains are.Before our boat had floated away, we had strapped on our daypacks and started the hike along the rocky coast, climbing up and over boulders, around jutted expanses of stone, and leapt over puddles. At one point we had to shuffle sideways, our backs to the water below us, clinging to the wet surface, just so we could finally start our ascent into the ruins above us. Our guides gave conflicting reports about how old the dwellings were, but there is no denying how incredible the view out the windows would have been. The area was once the refuge for the Arabian Leopard, but one of those cats hasn’t been seen in the region in over 8 years, so my attempts at spotting one while everyone else talked during our snack break was futile. The hike is not strenuous, far from it actually, and requires no technical ability save a little coordination and balance in some places. Our tour was led by 6 people from an adventure company that leads a multitude of tours in the area, each one recognised in first aid and would be able to pull you out of the water should you decide to test them and fall in. like most people, I was in nothing more than a shirt and shorts and a sturdy pair of hiking shoes – although running shoes were worn by many and a couple people decided that hiking in jeans was easily done as well. I am pleased to report that we had no casualties. We could amble through the ruins before meeting up just on the other side of the crest of the hill for a quick snack break. Some rushed through to have a longer rest; others like me decided to poke around a bit, take some photos, absorb the views from what was once a thriving community. The area off the coast has some great diving opportunities (although I can’t swim), and even sees whale sharks come close to shore at certain times of the year. One of our guides had swum with them twice, something she could not have envisioned when she learned to swim only a few years before. Yes, I can hear you saying, it is not too late for me to learn to swim. I had been living in Dubai for a little over a year, but I had never really gone exploring outside the city (save to Al Ain Wildlife Park) and of course Abu Dhabi. I knew that as you drove towards Oman, the mountains would appear and the big city mentality would disappear and you could consciously believe you were in another country, if only for a few hours. This is what the Dibba experience was like for me. I spent most of my childhood summers out camping and hiking in the foothills around the Rocky Mountains, and as much as I love city living, I really do need to get away into nature from time-to-time to reconnect and recharge. Smelling the salt in the air, feeling a breeze unhindered by buildings, and most importantly, not hearing any car horns honking allowed me to relive some childhood memories. Dubai can be tough when you’re not a millionaire. And it’s always the little things that can make or break an experience. I rely on the little things.
We hiked down the other side of the mountain, onto a little date farm where we waited for our boat to arrive at the shore. Before I knew it, we were back at Dibba Harbour in time to watch the local fisherman unload their catches and try and sell them on. Dinner was had back at our accommodation, and the next day I hopped on a mountain bike for a 3-hour ride on the roads through the mountains, before making the journey back to Dubai.With various other little fishing villages and hiking trails to explore around Dibba, it is a place that should call me back. One can only go to so many Friday brunches before it becomes too much. And we all need the outdoors. It is, after all, one of the little things.