Border crossing into U.A.E.
After another luxury hotel night, drive of early again and crossed the border into U.A.E. around 17:00PM. At first we though it would be our very first ‘drive through’ border experience… Unfortunately, this is only for those that are KSA or U.A.E. residents. After waiting in line, we were instructed to enter the building and after 45 minutes waiting at a desk, Wilfred received a small paper for the car and we could continue. Entering U.A.E. the same happened… we stood in line with the car and at the booth, we were requested to enter the building and complete the paperwork. Funny enough, the small KSA paper we received for the car, turned out to be very important. We needed it for our own entry and later needed it for the entry of the car as well as to exit the border area… Although we got to the border around 15:00PM (which turned out to be 16:00PM in U.A.E.), we headed for the nearest town, where we planned to camp at the public beach. In town, we first tried to get a sim card for the phone. After visiting 3 shopping areas, we finally succeeded and continued to the beach where we arrived almost in the dark.
We had decided that from the next morning onwards, we would start enjoying ourselves again. No more early starts and fast kilometres… Having said so, we had a nice breakfast and drove towards Abu Dhabi. At first at a pace of 80km/h as we were used to in Africa, but after about an hour, we were back at a pace of 100km/h… Without potholes and with large trucks passing you at a much higher speed, it did not make sense to drive slowly (and yes, it also helps that the diesel was still very affordable…).
On our way into Abu Dhabi, we passed the Grand Mosque and decided to visit it immediately. If it were not for the childish guard that did not let us through. At first Judith needed long sleeves, so we got long sleeves. When we tried to enter the second time with long sleeves, it turned out that a long skirt was not enough!? Not wanting satisfy his additional demand, we just took a picture of the outside that would do more than fine and we continued our drive into city centre towards the corniche with all the luxurious hotels for a nice ‘sushi lunch’ at the Sofitel. Unfortunately, it turns out to be closed till 18:00 and we settled in for some coffee and cake and started planning our next days. On Groupon, we found some great discounts for restaurants and hotels and we ended up again in a nice 5 start hotel for the next 2 nights. We had read that Abu Dhabi had signed contracts to build a Guggenheim and Louvre museum, but even the Emerates have been hit by the financial crisis and both of them are not (even close to being) finished.
On our second day in Abu Dhabi, we first (try) to visit the cultural island where both famous museums are being build and secondly Yas Island, the amusement island, with the Formula 1 circuit, Ferrari world with worlds fastest rollercoaster, Waterworld and a huge mall. As neither really interested us and certainly not at the prices requested, we visited one of the hotel for a cup of coffee and saw how the Formula 1 circuit crosses underneath the hotel.
At one of the stops in KSA some days ago, we noticed that the left front tire was showing some serious wear and at one spot, the canvas had become visible. Knowing it would be difficult to get the tires we want in the next countries to visit, we ordered them on line and had them shipped to a tire fitter in Abu Dhabi. We had ordered them driving into Abu Dhabi and after dropping Judith at the Sheraton for a hair cut (after 10 month), Wilfred went to the tire fitter...if it was not for the incredible stupid mistake that they had labelled one of the tires wrongly at the manufacturer/supplier (and had not checked it before shipment), it would have been an easy change. Fortunately, the supplier had another shipment coming in the next day and we had the second tire fitted a day later in Dubai.
For lunch we went the Emirates Palace Hotel. This hotel is a tourist attraction in itself as it turned out…not fitting in the garage, we were allowed to park at the VIP parking in front of the entrance next to the Bentleys and Ferraris and it was really funny to notice that our car attracted a lot more attention from the valet parking crew and tourists. When Wilfred returned to the car minutes after we parked, he had an animated chat with several of them that had been looking at the car after we left. In general the people in Saudi and the Emirates (and especially the natives), like the fact that you come and cross through their country with an overland vehicle. The number of thumps up and hooting while taking over us, has seriously increased the last couple of days.
After a short glance around the hotel and having marvelled at the 1000+ Swarovski chandeliers, we looked at the menu’s of the restaurants. At one of them, Judith noticed that this month special was all about camel; a specialty of the Jeddah region in KSA, that we had skipped and had not come across since. It was delicious, not only the tender slow cooked meat, but also the two scoops of camel milk ice cream with saffron and dates.
After our (late) lunch, we wanted to visit the cultural village on the island behind the Emirates Palace Hotel, but we unfortunately already found it closed. Alternatively, we drove by the presidential palace buildings and went for a Belgium beer at the Intercontinental hotel’s Belgian (Beer) bar.
After a stopover in Dubai about 13 years ago, we said that it would be nice to see what the city would look like 10 years later…at that time, there were already some skyscrapers, but the majority was being build. One thing we remembered vividly, was the Persian golf that was visible from the road all the way from the old city towards the at that time most luxurious hotel, the Burj Al Arab about 20kms to the south. When we arrived this time and drove the same road towards the Iranian embassy, all we could see were hotels, houses and shops and of course a kilometres long skyline of sky scrapers on the other side.
On the whole stretch, there are only 2 public beaches left and the most southern one (Al Sufouh), would be our sleeping quarters for the coming days. When we arrived there at midnight (!) on Thursday, after having spent the afternoon in the air-conditioning of the outlet mall and the evening in the Emirates mall with its indoor ski slope, we found the place packed. Everywhere on the beach, there were small groups of people still enjoying a drink or even a late bbq. After a short night (people come to the beach around 5:30AM) and a lazy morning, we again moved into the air-conditioning. This time we chose the largest mall of the world; Dubai Mall, which is located next to the XXX Tower and the Dubai Opera, where we would enjoy the Blue Man group performance in the afternoon. After the performance, we walked by the largest fountains of the world and enjoyed atmosphere and its water performance on the music of mission impossible.
The following day, we spent the entire morning at the beach reading and met our new Kenyan friends for drinks and dinner in the afternoon. A pleasant and relaxing day and evening, that did not come a day too soon as it turned out. We had become very tired of the heat, driving days, noisy nights and especially the ‘required/forgotten/neglected’ administration and the continuous little set backs that had accumulated.
Our ‘delay’ in Africa had resulted in the fact that:
Rejuvenated after the pleasant evening, we went to the Intercontinal Hotel in the morning to print, complete and sent the required forms and emails to the different companies before we drove towards Oman. It had been our plan to also visit Al Ain and its world heritage sites, but as we needed to get a new insurance before the end of the day, we drove directly to the border, postponing the visit till our return to U.A.E.