May 222011

The goal of this day was simple: rent a car, and visit the remaining Emirates of the United Arab Emirates. In a large part, this was driven by the list put out by the Travelers Century Club of what they continue to be a “country.” I personally don’t agree with this list, but we figured while we were in the neighbourhood we should get to collecting.

There are seven emirates in the UAE, and we had visited Dubai years ago. Flew out of Sharjah to Afghanistan on this trip, and had taken a trip south to Abu Dhabi before Iran (the other five emirates are all north of Dubai, so it made sense to swing south to Abu Dhabi on its own) so that left four more to visit.

As you can see on this map:

There were two other interesting places we wanted to visit in the east of the UAE: the Omani Exclave of Madha which is entirely surrounded by the UAE, and the UAE Enclave of Nahwa which is entirely surrounded by the exclave of Madha! Confused yet?

So we picked up the car at Dubai airport and headed north for Sharjah which shouldn’t have been a big deal but for the lack of street signs and seemly constant construction in Dubai which meant we spent nearly an hour trying to get on the highway north, lol.

Once we found it, however, it was an easy shot, and soon we were in the first new Emirate…Ajman, which sits just a couple miles north of Sharjah, maybe a whopping total of 10 miles from Dubai. All that getting lost was hard work so it was time to stop and take pictures of anything with the world “Ajman” in it, and what better than the UAE’s national sport of shopping….Ajman City Center mall. Caffeine was in high order at this point, so a stop at one of the UAE’s 14 million Starbucks was on order before continuing north.

Next stop was maybe 20 miles up the road in the Emirate of Um Al Quwain. While Dubai is like Las Vegas in the desert, and Sharjah is in a way it’s slightly less glitzy residential (and dry) suburb, Ajman had felt kind of like the far-out-exurbs. Um Al Quwain, however, felt very different. Much more rural, much less developed, and much more….sand.

We were determined to get some culture on this drive, so we stopped at (and were the only tourists at) the Um Al Quwain Museum. There were a few interesting displays, mainly about the history of UAQ and how it had joined the federation and a bit more about it’s more tribal past. It was interesting for about 30 minutes, but there was lots more driving to do!

We were starting to get hungry at this point, so were determined to stop in the next Emirate north of Ras al Khaimah and find lunch. RAK as it is known was determined to cash in on the tourism boom in the UAE, but then the Global Financial Crisis hit, things slowed down, and as a result the coastal part of the emirate seemed littered with half-finished gated communities, resorts, and shopping malls.

We picked the largest of the malls, and were determined to find somewhere to have lunch. We tried to find somewhere with good local or regional food, but didn’t have much lunch. We did, however, find a fun cafe filled with locals outside on the patio (unfortunately all smoking shisha) so at least the atmosphere was somewhat local 😉 Fortified with a couple sandwiches, and well after noon, we had lots of driving to do!

We cut across the UAE on roads 18 and 87 over to the east coast, which made for some fascinating scenery driving through sand dunes on both sides of the highway as well as the occasional camel. Finding the turnoff to Madha was pretty easy (just follow the Omani flags) but there was no border patrol. Once inside Oman, it was much harder to find Nahwa. The roads were all small and quite windy, and we stopped several locals and made the universal gesture of “we’re lost” and “Nahwa.” After about 30+ minutes of pointing and searching we had found it…evidenced only by the “Al Nahwa Health Centre” with a UAE flag on top.

South through the remaining emirate of Fujirah it was quite a contrast. Refineries, ports, this was clearly a very industrial emirate and there was not too much to see. We had read that from here it was fastest to continue south into Oman, then cut straight west back to Dubai. Great in theory, except when the Omanis wanted around $50 each for a visa. We’d read that for transit on this road a visa wasn’t required if you already had entrance into the UAE, but that was not to be.

Rather than pay $100 to potentially save 30 minutes (and the cool factor of driving through Oman) we u-turned back to Fujirah (after first being re-admitted to the UAE) and cut across on Highway 88 to Sharjah determined not to get lost this time. Some amazing mountain views and dunes driving this route, and most of the traffic seemed to be doing around 130-140kph most of the way. Quite a drive!

Into Sharjah, we found the turn back to Dubai, and the roads to the airport were well marked. Dropped off the car, back to the hotel to pick up our bags and hotel hop for the stay credit back to the Sheraton Dubai Creek. We asked for (and received) the same Suite upgrade we’d had a week before, but this time two of the three rooms were closed off, so it was just a standard suite with sauna. Pity 😉

We took the “first class” car of the metro (yes, Dubai metro has two classes) to the Burj Al Khalifa and the giant shopping mall next door to grab some great Lebanese for dinner while watching the fountain show outdoors. Great evening to be outside – the UAE in January is actually very pleasant. Back to the hotel and to bed early because we had an early flight on Lufthansa (via Munich) in first to get excited for!

Next Up: Part VIII. DXB-MUC-LHR in LH First…or how LH shines during IRROPS

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