Liwa is a small cluster of villages set in the oasis in the southern quarter of the United Arab Emirates. We were told there is not much there. Wrong!
View Ruwais to Liwa in a larger map
Getting there is easy. Early start about 7.00am. (I know you ask why early, when you know it is my one day off in the week….). It needs to be a worthwhile trip. Khamal my driver picked me up, so for me I know, an easy day ahead. I had high hopes it was going to be a good day.
Liwa's got history and some things to see. The history side is simple enough. (Formal details below). It has water and therefore was a place for human habitat to develop and thrive over the years. Thousands of years in fact. It is also the historical ancestral home of the ruling Abu Dhabi family. So as would be expected, there are now good roads and infrastructure. Not so many people around but enough to make the rich soils work. There are a couple of good hotels catering for tourists. The locals coming up for the camel racing and the visitors more for buggy riding over the dunes and sight seeing. We missed a major camel racing event. Happened a few weeks back. Isn't it always the way...? So for sure Liwa has plenty enough going for it to have a fun weekend. Just pick the right weekend.
So after I left my NCC camp, first stop was to pick up my colleague Mr Kim. We proceeded straight inland. Dual carriage roads the whole way. First town we reached was Ghaythai. It’s a small ‘one horse’ town type place. Actually, to be fair to it, there is a school, decent houses, shops etc. No idea how many people live here but I would guess at over 5-10,000. It as a brand new petrol stations complete with a shop and small restaurant. Bit like UK with Little Chefs etc. So we stopped there for our morning coffee and biscuits. All staff are from India or Pakistan. No Emiraties to be seen, unless you include those pulling in to fill up their cars with fuel!
After coffee it was back in the car and we headed south. All this was made much easier by having our driver Khamal with us. He had been before and also spoke the local language. I say local, but most of the people we come across are imported labour from Indian or Pakistan, so language is either Urdu or Hindi. Mr Kim has English and Korean, and with me backing up with English and err…. well enough said.
Continuing south the landscape changes. It was like leaving everything behind. Fantastic to see the rolling sand dunes. They seems to open up to us and at the same time give us a sense of vastness and of being never ending. What made it so special was the timing. Early morning with the sun rising, made for stunning shadows appearing on the dunes. As we travelled along and the sun rose the shadows changed. Seemed to bring the dunes alive. Interestingly the dunes stay off the road. I think the winds take the sand completely across the road and do not allow for any built up. The fencing which goes all along the road side, we assumed is to stop camels and antelope crossing the roads. We did see 3 antelope, but they had gone by the time I got the camera out. So just believe me when I tell you we did see some!
Liwa, well we think we got to Liwa but there were signs for Mezairria. We followed this. In fact having carried on and on southwards we came to a roundabout. Three point roundabout. The road we were on and two more exits. Simple choice: left or right? Right looked to be going nowhere and was a smaller road. So turn left it was. I mentioned earlier that Khamal spoke the language. He did at this time call a friend to check we were on the right road, I mean left road.....
Within 2-3 kilometers of turning left, the area transformed in an all lush green with date palms everywhere. Unfortunately they were not in season. Still well worth driving along and seeing all the agriculture.
We continued along the road and came across a camel racing track. Loads of camels being trained and exercised. Seemed strange, a fully fledged track in the middle of an area surrounded only by sand. Good photo opportunity.
We had by now travelled about 350 kilometers. Time for lunch. Only place we could find open was the Liwa Hotel. Imagine you travel all this was in the sand to come across a 5 star hotel complete with swimming pool. I mentioned earlier about dune buggys. Well it seems this was one of the places people stayed while enjoying driving up and down sand dunes.
Lunch as you can imagine for a 5 star hotel, was excellent, with an amazing array of mouthwatering Arabic and European dishes.
Then, back to the NCC camp, but another route via Madinet Zayed. Its another small town with a slightly better range of shops and more quality housing. Again we tried for fresh date. Again told out of season!
Then home, but not before buying some packaged dates from the local supermarket…
Home ‘James’. I mean home Khamal ! Great day.
All in all, we covered about 700 kilometers. All on first class dual carriageway roads. Probably take weeks on a camel, and give you sore feet. Food for thought.