Monday, October 3, 2011

Beauty has an address

I’ve been to Oman quite a few times – never had my passport stamped for it.  Al Ain, a village in the UAE, shares its borders with Oman – in a very strange way; in the days before black gold, Al Ain was very important:  In Al Ain, hidden deep under the desert sands, are huge caverns filled all year round with cool clear spring water. Al Ain (Arabic: العين‎, al-ʿayn) literally means the spring,and for years and years ownership of the small village was ferociously warred over by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi –later part of the UAE - and Oman.  It was finally decided to share the village between the two countries.  Somewhere in Al Ain there is a road with three speed bumps.  Once you’re over the last hump you find yourself in Oman in a village, which after the speed bumps is called Buraimi.  We used to live in Al Ain (BC - before children) and those three bumps were at the beginning of many of our scariest, most wonderful and most memorable desert adventures.

Bubble on a road-trip to Oman

This time however, we went into Oman very very officially.  In order for me and the children to change over from our tourist visas to our residency visas we had to leave the country, have our passports stamped out and stamped in again.  Since Oman is only about 100km from Dubai it was the most sensible destination.  Our road trip got off after the second try - we forgot that our rental car doesn’t have international insurance, fortunately for us Richard and Marianne’s Bubble does. Around 20km outside of Dubai the last buildings disappear in the heat-born haze and the white desert sand stretch around you as far as the eye can see.  The openness of the desert speaks to my soul – always has.  Why it is that the desert landscape intrigues me so I cannot say – perhaps because the Little Prince said:  “every desert hides a well,” perhaps because of the open skies and complete horizon, perhaps because here, life is precarious but uncomplicated, minimalistic and large at the same time, serene and scary, yes, perhaps that is it – the contrasts.

After a while the white sand dunes turns into red, shaded in deep brown, black and sometimes even purple.  There is a sand dune known as Big Red, where there is always human activity.  The monstrous dune is an eternal challenge for those who think their particular brand of 4x4 vehicle will be the one to make it to the top or their driving skills will prove superior to the rest.  From the road the SUVs on the slope resemble toy cars and the odd incident where a vehicle come rolling down the side of the dune rarely cause panic – it just seems too unreal.

Shortly after Big Red one starts to see Mountains in the distance.  Mountains  with a BIG M.  Resembling silk paintings they disappear into the distance in hues of blues and purple.  I always thought Tolkien must’ve modeled his Mordor after these giants.  High up in these rough mountains are little villages where roses are grown - some of the best rosewater in the world come from here.  All along the road we find wadis,*some filled with cool clear water and some dry, treacherously waiting for the uninformed tourist to wander down.  The wadis can become flooded in seconds with rainwater from the mountains - flashing down with tragic results for anyone trapped in its way.  

Every now and again one glimpses green oasis hidden in the folds of the mountains.  Proud villas perched on higher ground dots the area, their high walls undulating ownership across the rolling landscape.

We had our passports stamped out at the UAE border to bring us to the end of our stay on our tourist visas.  At the Omani border we parked our car in the parking area, purchased Omani tourism visas and had our passports stamped as entering the country.  The handsome fellow with his traditional Omani headdress (I like these much more than the UAE ones) meticulously filled in one line for each of us (Tinus included) in a very large book, more or less starting at the one end of the table, writing …. writing …. writing …. writing all the way to the other end of the table.  He then took our passports again, stamped them out, and did a new line for each of us writing …. writing …. writing …. writing …. We got back into the car and returned to the UAE border post where we had our passports stamped back into the UAE, now on residential visas.  On the way back to Dubai we stopped the green bubble somewhere in the red part of the desert and four happy UAE residents watched the sunset pour molten gold over the endless dunes.

Pots at a roadside shop from the days
when missionaries were still on the menu

Wadi (Arabic: وادي‎ wādī; also: Vadi) is the Arabic term traditionally referring to a valley. In some cases, it may refer to a dry (ephemeralriverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain or simply an intermittent stream

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