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Summer Madness

Our dhow approaches the remote village of KumzarTo those of you in the UAE who think that you can't get out and about during the summer months because of the heat and humidity; I can tell you that we had three excellent summer weekends away. One excursion was a day trip, and for the other two we camped! The trick to enjoying (surviving?) the outdoors in the summer, is either to be near the sea, or by the pool, with access to shelter from the sun, or do as we did for the camps and get up high in the mountains.

Our first trip was to the mountains near Aqabat Oso, the village at the top of the mountain pass between wadis Bih and Khabb Shamsi. We were doubly fortunate in that, not only did we have a good breeze, free of humidity, but we also awoke to an overcast sky which kept off the fierce sun well into the day. The morning clouds provided us with fine drizzle; not enough to soak us through or make the tents too wet to pack away, but enough to keep us cool. In fact the temperatures were so pleasant that we were able to walk comfortably part of the Jebel Qihwi route. We walked for over an hour and a half in total and climbed about 250m; this would usually be very difficult at this time of year, even at this altitude (1000m).

Summer hike in the rainWe left Aqabat Oso, late morning and descended in the rain to Dibba via Wadi Khabb Shamsi. I must admit to being a little nervous going through the narrow gorges with the windscreen wipers going. I wouldn't ordinarily recommend this route in the rain. In truth it never really looked like changing from anything but a fine drizzle, and we emerged with nothing worse than muddy tires. Even though the weather down near Dibba was much more humid it was still cooler than normal, and quite bearable. For lunch we headed over to the ruins of the palace in wadi Hayl and after paying a quick visit to see the petroglyphs, headed back to Abu Dhabi, via Kalba and the recently opened, 1km tunnel to Huwailat.

The following weekend we did a day trip to the seaside, but this was a seaside with a difference! This trip involved wading through shallow creeks, and plodding through mud, at times knee deep. We were amongst the mangrove forests at Ras Dhabiyah, which is a short way along the coast, east of Abu Dhabi Island.

Osprey nestIf you've ever seen the Bogart film African Queen, then you'll have some idea of what this hike in the mangrove forest was like. I've always wondered what it was like, up close and personal with a mangrove swamp, and often thought it'd be fun to take a canoe through the channels in the mangrove swamps just off the New Corniche in Abu Dhabi. Ok, ok, we all have our fantasies!!

As you may expect, among the wildlife to be seen were crabs, birds (heron, curlew, plovers, hoopoe lark, flamingos, Osprey), a myriad of small shellfish, and a few small fish in the creek. The mangroves themselves are quite interesting with their snorkel-like roots pointing upwards and spreading out a surprising distance from the main plant.

Amongst the mangroves were a few rocky outcrops; eroded remains of ancient seabed. Some of these mushroom shaped rocks were 3-5m above the ground, so it was interesting to climb up on top and get a good look around from above. One thing I learned was that if you had to travel any distance through the mangroves it would be very easy to become disoriented and lost. Making our way directly to one of the outcrops which we'd spotted just 100m away was much more difficult than I would have imagined.

Mushroom shaped outcropsIf you are tempted to have a go at "Mangrove Plodding", and I will quite understand if you are not, then choose your footwear carefully. Bare-feet are out; the shells in the mud would make a mess of all but the hardest of hard-skinned feet. Reef-type sandals tend to let the small sharp shells get between your toes and under the soles of your feet (very uncomfortable), trainers are in danger of getting stuck in the mud and being lost for ever, and the same goes for flip-flops (Jandals, thongs, whatever they call them in your neck of the woods). The best footwear, we found, was neoprene diving bootees, the type that you struggle to get on or off because they seem to adhere to your feet. Anyway, it was a pleasant and interesting way to pass a Friday, and with the water close to hand, aided by a bit of a breeze, we managed to avoid overheating. I'm just glad we didn't take our dog Chirri; he would have got in a terrible muddy smelly mess. A bit like us really!

And then, as if it couldn't get any better, a visit to Musandam turned into a surprise opportunity to achieve something on my must-do list. We planned to spend two nights in the Musandam, the most northerly part of Omani territory, and one of its most fascinating areas. Because we couldn't leave Abu Dhabi until after 4 pm on Wednesday which meant arriving in Khasab after 9 pm, we planned to spend the first night at the Khasab hotel. Ten more members of the group were due to leave early Thursday morning and meet us in Khasab around midday.

On Thursday morning we got up early and made the 30min journey to Khawr Naj'd, in order to try and arrange the hire of a Dhow. We wanted a boat to take us over to the deserted village of Maqaqah on the northern shores of this fantastic Fjord-like inlet (Khawr Habalayn), which opens out into the Indian Ocean on the peninsula's east coast. The village has a small island nearby (Jazirat Maqaqah), and there are reportedly some interesting archaeological remains in the area. Two years previously, at about the same time of year, on a boat trip up Khawr Ash Shamm, we climbed the narrow ribbon of rock which separates that inlet from Khawr Habalayn and looked down through the sweat in our eyes at the inviting waters below. So it seemed only right that this time we should visit the clear waters of Khawr Habalayn.

Unfortunately, we found that the only vessels at Khawr Naj'd were small fishing launches, and worse still, the beach was deserted. After a short wait, a small boat arrived and took aboard some workmen before heading off south to Lima. We learned from the foreman that they were workers from the power station and the workers had been called to Lima to fix a problem with the electricity supply there. It didn't seem worthwhile waiting for a dhow to somehow magically appear, so we headed back into Khasab where we visited one of the tour companies which specialise in providing sea transport to tourists.

We discussed our problem and discovered that indeed, there were no dhows normally resident at Khawr Naj'd and to be able to visit Maqaqah a boat would have to be sent all the way round from Khasab; a journey of over 100 km. We were assured that they were more than willing to do this for us, but in this case it would have taken too long for the Dhow to get round in the time we had available, plus the cost spread amongst our small party would have been quite high.

We started looking at alternative possibilities, knowing that everyone would be disappointed if we didn't go on some sort of boat trip along this amazing coastline, when Ali, the tour operator mentioned Kumzar. This rang a bell. I had read all about Kumzar and its intriguing history involving Iran, Arabia, India, Portugal and England. The language of the Kumzari people is apparently an unusual dialect which appears to be influenced by the language from all five of these regions. Today Kumzar is very much a part of Oman and has a reported population of 3000, although there was only a handful there when we visited. These days the people tend to move to Khasab during the hottest months.

Shrine to Sheikh Masud on the beachWhen the rest of the group arrived at around 2pm we had the boat organised and were very soon on our way to visiting Kumzar, something I'd wanted to do for a very long time. A full account of what we found there deserves a page of its own. Suffice to say it was an absolutely fantastic trip, which more than made up for our disappointment at not being able to visit Maqaqah. We'll have to save that for the next trip!

We didn't arrive back in Khasab until gone 10 pm, so we quickly packed the vehicles and made our way up to the camp near the top of Jebel Harem. We had a late night supper and retired to our tents after 1 am. The night was very pleasant, and cool enough to sleep comfortably in our tents. In the morning we walked a short distance from the camp to a viewpoint where we could just make out Aqabat Oso, the area in which we'd camped two weeks earlier.

Restored fort at BukkaAfter packing up we drove to a small wadi near the Sayh plateau which leads to the 'hidden valley'. This is where the village at the top of the 'Stairway to Heaven climb' is situated, and so we were able to peer gingerly over the edge, and wonder how on earth anyone could climb up there from wadi Ghalilah / Litibah far below.

Time was marching on so we headed back to the cars and drove back down to Khasab. From there we just didn't seem to be able to drag ourselves away and back over the border to the UAE. What with side trips to see more petroglyphs, the Shrine to Sheikh Masud in his beautifully secluded cove, then the restored mosque, fort and hill-fort at Bukka, it was nearly dark as we crossed the border back into the UAE with the long journey to Abu Dhabi ahead of us.

We arrived home tired but satisfied, and so it just goes to show that you can still have adventures in summer in the UAE!

Roy Richards July 2003

© Roy L Richards 2012
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Updated Jan 2010

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