And we’re off – my first blog entry.

You often hear that friends come and go, but really good friends can pick up the phone after months and years, as if only a day has passed.  This was the case with Marina Bruce, or Marina Middleton as I knew her, and the time that had passed was 29 years.  We were old school friends and she stumbled across me through facebook soon after moving to Abu Dhabi in 2009.  We have since become good friends and this weekend I am staying with her in Al Ain.  She suggested I start blogging, so here it goes.

Although I lived in Abu Dhabi for four years, I seldom visited Al Ain. Usually it was with work, with visitors to the UAE, or as I sped through to Muscat on my way to dive at the weekend.  Al Ain has lots of speed cameras, and in 2009, my “stealth fines” for speeding totalled 5,000 AED.  So Al Ain was usually avoided.  It does however have much to offer, so don’t let that put you off visiting.  It is the original oasis town in Abu Dhabi and home to most Emiratis.  It also has the fabulous Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort (the zoo!) and home to a pair of gorgeous white lions:

The other “must do” in Al Ain is a drive up Jebel Hafeet, Abu Dhabi’s highest mountain rising 1240m out of the desert.  The views at the top are spectacular and the drive up and down is not for those that fear heights.  There is a car park area at the end of the road with a small restaurant, but sadly no where to picnic. For those seeking a more salubrious setting, there is the striking Hotel Mercure.  At first sight you expect Don Johnson to walk out wearing white trews and blazer sleeves rolled up – it is pure 1980’s.  I was astonished to learn it opened around 2006. For a French chain in the middle of the desert, it is fine for an overnight stop, especially in the summer when it is a couple of degrees cooler.   My weekend with Marina helped fill in my Al Ain gaps. 

As an avid offroader, Marina took me on the first trip of the weekend to Jebel Hafeet tombs.  They lie less than 30km from her home and she too had never been to this ancient site.  We had both read about this ancient burial site and were keen to see and learn more.  After a rather bumpy alternative access route, we arrived to a very peaceful and stunning setting.  The tombs are being restored but even for 5,000 years, they were impressive:

On the way back we met some camels.  These are the same camels in my profile picture.  They obviously know how to space manage natural shade.  Evolution of the species is a great thing!

Later, Marina organised a wee dune bashing trip with her friends Wally, Vince and Richard.  She is a Marshall with a local offroading club, so I knew I was in safe and capable hands.  As it is Ramadan, in the UAE everyone works 2 hours less each day, so we met at 4pm, just as it was cooling down a bit.  It was around 39C but still very enjoyable.  A couple of cars got stuck, which is all part of the fun and challenge of offroading.

We were out for just under two hours and clocked up 13km  I had done a couple of dune bashing trips some years before, but I have to confess it is much more enjoyable as a passenger.  My super skilled driver, Marina:

So as my Al Ain weekend draws to a close, Marina and I are at her kitchen table giving me a blogging tutorial.  So the least I could do to thank her is to buy some delicious Vivel cookies and make her a cup of tea before the drive  home to Muscat.

Thanks for a great weekend!

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