Our First Family Camping Trip

EMEG Camp

It took three tries, but we finally made our winter visit to the UAE. Because of transportation issues, the first two attempts flopped but by the third, we had a rental and were ready for the road. Just days prior to the trip, I asked my sisterfriend living in Abu Dhabi about visiting. She said that they had a private camping trip planned but invited us to join their crew. With our secondhand camping tents, chairs and beds on hand for such an occasion, we jumped at the opportunity and were off for our first family night outdoors.

The priority for our first day of winter break was to sleep in and drop off our car to be serviced which meant we didn’t leave Muscat until after noon. Slowly and steadily, we crept out of the city. Lil’ Z’s complaints of the long drive reminded me that we hadn’t had a family road trip in a while. Life in Turkey and Morocco didn’t include a personal vehicle, so we relied on planes, trains, and buses to get around. Now that we’re back in Oman, our zeal and confidence to explore the open road has resurfaced because we know that we’re in a safe place where we have consistently found warm welcomes, helping hands, and sincere hospitality.

EMEG Camp

Fueled by homemade hummus, cucumbers, and buckwheat crispbread, we hauled our way to the Khatma Malaha border north of Sohar and pulled in to a foggy Dubai night. Finding our camp site with such low visibility was a challenge but worth it. The Emirates Marine Environmental Group is a private camp and nature reserve in Jebel Ali, Dubai. At night, I couldn’t really appreciate our location, I was just relieved to find our group, a blazing campfire to keep us warm, and vegan pasta and veggie burgers awaiting us. While our companions had planned a barbeque for themselves, they were considerate enough to set aside a grill for our veggie-que. We ate and chatted, prayed and reflected, and then hurried to bed.

Camping in Dubai

The night was restless for me but, thankfully, the children slept fine. No nighttime bathroom trips or crying fits from our tents. Once the sun evaporated the night’s haze, the beauty of our surroundings was unveiled. Shallow lakes, rolling contours, and a pristine stretch of coastline were ours to enjoy leisurely. For our first camping trip, the site was well-suited considering the bathroom facilities with running water, the privacy of the location, and the preparedness of our companions who had everything from kayaks to ketchup to make our stay comfortable.

EMEG Camp

Watching Lil’ Z have her first lesson in kayaking reminded Urbndervish and I of the conversations we had almost seven years ago.  We were living in Algeria and recently discovered that we were expecting Lil’ Z. We strolled around Algiers walking and talking about our hopes and ambitions for our family. We vividly mentioned wanting our children to have more exposure and comfort in nature than we had growing up as city kids. Even though we have a learning curve ourselves, it was a blessing to witness this aspiration of ours manifest. We’ll be on the lookout for other group camping trips until we’re outfitted and ready to brave such a feat on our own.

UAE to Oman

Abu Dhabi: Winter Road Trip

100_6820To be fair, I should put “winter” in quotes because it’s all relative in these parts.  While the Omanis shiver in down coats and wool hats, we find a cardigan and scarf adequate for the early morning and late evening chill.  Just when you think it’s time to buy a blanket, your virgin coconut oil starts to melt and you realize that the weather is warming up.  If you want a winter holiday with snow and hot chocolate, you can venture upward into mountain ranges like Jabal Akhdar or Jabal Shams.  But if you prefer to sip mint lemonade and enjoy the outdoors, almost anyplace at sea level in the Gulf will suit you well.  We opted for the latter and hit the road for a few days.

Day 1

Departing from Nizwa, we took the long route to UAE, bypassing Muscat en route to Suwayq.  When one of Urbndervish’s closest buddies in the Sultanate announced the birth of his newborn son, we seized the opportunity to visit them, just as we did a year ago this time.  The family received us and prepared a late lunch for us, which we enjoyed just before pushing out at sunset.  Heading northward, we spent the night in Al-Buraymi, rested up and prepared to cross the border on the next morning.

Day 2

Urbndervish grabbed a modest breakfast for Lil’ Z and I from across the street.  Tallying the cost of foul moudammas, pita bread, carrot juice, and two liters of water, it was clear that we were still on the Omani side of the border; our breakfast feast was a little more than 1.5 OMR, nearly $4 USD.  After exhausting the free Wi-Fi at Al Hamasa Plaza Hotel, we braved ourselves for the border crossing.  Though usually uneventful, we apparently made a huge error trying to cross the border at al-Hili as non-GCC citizens.  After a fruitless trip to the police station, we were directed nearly 50 km to Hafeet for an exit stamp.  Always prepared for a hiccup or two in our travels, we took it in stride.  But after finally reaching Hafeet, acquiring our exit stamps, and then being redirected another 50 km back to al-Hili, we were frustrated and confused.  Three hours had mysteriously become six before reaching our hotel in Abu Dhabi.

We read about Foodlands Restaurant online and headed there for dinner.  We found a bite-sized eatery bearing the same name adjacent to a New Muslims Center but there was no room for the promised buffet, a table, or a long conversation in the cubicle-sized cafe.  After inquiring, we were directed to another Foodlands just down the road- well more like a few streets down the road and around the corner.  With the buffet only available for lunch, we ordering a la carte and found the food flavorful and fresh.  The meal’s highlight for me was having a good old-fashioned samosa, complete with tamarind chutney.  Every Indian restaurant I know of ALWAYS has this staple as an appetizer but the Indians in Oman seem to have another agenda.  Gratefully, I savored every bite of the Punjabi delight, as I knew it would be a few more seasons until we’d meet again.

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Day 3

We ventured out to visit Masdar City, Abu Dhabi’s car-less energy development project.  Our inner green geeks squealed with delight upon entering our personal rapid transit (PRT) electric car.

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The “Thank you car” as Lil’ Z recalls it took us to Masdar Institute, a graduate-level university seated in Masdar City where students from all over the globe study all things sustainable.  The carbon-neutral campus is appealing with great passive lighting, sleek architectural design, and wind towers to keep the outdoor ambient temperature comfortable.

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We visited the Organic Café for some yuppy indulgences and ate breakfast at the campus canteen.  After breakfast, we met another Northeasterner who lives in Abu Dhabi but was just in our Nizwa neighborhood only days prior.  What are the odds?

As mid-day approached, there was no more inviting place to pray than the Shaykh Abu Zayed Grand Mosque.  Mosques are great on principle but grand, beautiful mosques are breathtaking.  The steady stream of visitors subsided just in time to make ablution at the decorated tile mosaic fountains, hear the call to prayer echo through the gold-rimmed archways, and prostrate upon exquisite, floral handmade carpets.

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We enjoyed our visit, marveling at the steady crowd control and cover control.  Posted signage makes clear what attire is and is not allowed in the mosque and they have hooded abaya gowns available for borrow.

After a mid-day siesta, we fled to Bonna Anne, an Ethiopian restaurant near Falah and Salam Street in the Tourist Club Area.

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Lil’ Z was thrilled to see “injella” and “shilo wat” and we were all reminiscing about our recent trip to Ethiopia.  Our injera platter was heavy-laden with a variety of steaming entrees.  The hostess generally served each dish of our Beyanetu platter and we savored it to the last bite.

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After sunset, it was time for the ladies to hang out, so we left the boys at home.  Lil’ Z and I met up with a friend and headed to a gathering of poetry and song hosted by a Hadhrami Yemeni family.  The gathering temporarily transported me to Hadhramout circa 2009.  The cadence of the singers, the ginger coffee, and a familiar face brought back a pleasant flood of memories.

Day 4

Today was our meet-up day with dear friends living in Madinat Zayed, Liwa, and Abu Dhabi.  Our reunion was warm and easy-going, as if no time had passed since our last encounter.  We originally planned to leave Abu Dhabi on this day but when we received news of the Mawlid holiday in Oman, we decided to stay one more night.  After meeting at Mushrif Mall and getting reacquainted, we made our way to Heritage Village near the Corniche.

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There were visitors but no vendors present for the Mawlid holiday.  A few worn animals were on deck and the restaurant on site was bustling.  After watching jet skis zip by along the shore and keeping tabs on the under-five crowd, we opted for lunch at Al Salah Restaurant.  Their full buffet wasn’t vegan friendly, so we negotiated just paying for the salad buffet which included baba ghanoush and hummus and ordered Indian dhal from the menu.

After parting with plans to reconvene later, Lil’ Z and I snuck in some bargain abaya shopping at the Bengali souq market and later met up with the crew for another evening affair hosted by a Syrian family.

Day 5

After sleeping in, we decided to splurge a bit.  Since we were driving the long haul all the way back to Nizwa, we thought it wise to feast on the breakfast buffet before check-out.    At 55 AED or $15 USD per adult, we found the buffet to be quite impressive, with generous helpings of baked beans, sautéed mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes.  Hash browns and foul moudammas were made to order but what struck us most was the offer of soy milk.  How sweet!  This was a first in our travel history and we left thoroughly satisfied with our meal.

After a prompt check-out, we made our way to Al Ain, planning to try the Mazyad border crossing to Hafeet.  For expats in Oman traveling to UAE from Nizwa, this is the border for you!  The border crossing was smooth and before we knew it, we were on Omani soil veering through Ibri and Bahla before reaching Nizwa.  We arrived home after sunset, grateful for the memorable time spent with good friends and the smooth return.  While UAE is generally not our speed, we know good folks there who make the trip worth taking and we hope to see them again next year, if not sooner.  😉

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Photo Credit: Labinsky