We walked to breakfast at Talay, the hotel’s restaurant on the water, at 5:50 and were going to sit outside, but got overwhelmed by the size of the buffet, so we chose a table nearby the juice-water-yogurt stand. We were brought fresh coffee in the press, then made our way to the bowls of cereal, fruit, veggies, meats, breads, and pork, and the hot section with pancakes, eggs, sausage, and soup.
We ate, probably as usual, but it felt rushed and I didn’t mind because we had plans today. We walked to the front of Le Meridien at 6:20 and there was a taxi waiting. He got us to the Anantana Hotel 15 minutes later. Being there early gave us a chance to walk around and take in the view of the water, sun, city, and mangroves. Our guide arrived, we paid him 150 dirham each, then were given a safety brief – how to wear a floaty, and how to use the oars. This was the greatest piece of advice as usually my arms get tired, but keeping my elbows at 90 degrees and turning my body gave a more even motion and a nice workout.
Heading out was easy. I left my phone and camera and Caleb left his wallet so they would stay dry, even though we had a dry storage area. I should’ve brought my camera. The current carried us in past at least eight different species of birds – little egret, reef heron, redshank, graceful prinia, reed warbler, crab plover, white-collared kingfisher, black-necked stilt; and past thousands of crabs. Our guide Rian sounded very knowledgeable of the area and when we showed interest he opened up to us about his degree in biology and told us about the water, the plants, the animals, and the reason for the colors, sounds, and textures of things.
We learned how to differentiate male and female crabs and which ones are good to buy at the market. We learned about the circle of life for the local trees and how the salt from the water comes out of their leaves. We learned about the aerial roots that give them oxygen and the role the crabs play in maintaining the area. We stopped on a beach for our halfway break. Rian brought enough water and fruit cups for five people, three of which cancelled because they were still in bed when he called. He pointed out some fox holes and I tried to look in, but they are deep and dark.
After being there awhile we headed back into the current, but the paddling was still easy. Our guide is from the Philippines, spent some time in Iraq, and has lived here for two years. He loves his job and teaching the other guides more about the area they work in. We use the facilities inside at 10, after being offered more water and fruit upon our arrival on the dock. Their bathroom has fresh hand towels for personal drying and the toilet is motion or hand censored. One taxi drives away as another arrives. I love the service here.
I ask for a ride to City Centre and then we decide on Crowne Plaza because it should be near Capital Garden, and we end up near a tall shell-top looking building that happens to be next door to the large, indoor WTC Souk. We walk the other floors, ones we didn’t see yesterday, before making our way by Lake Park and then weaving through the tall buildings to find shade. We tried finding shawarma when we saw guys eating it and should’ve gone into the restaurant where it looked like they were cooking fresh bread.
We find our way back to Le Meridien at noon. This will give us a chance to desalt, desweat, and get some complimentary cappuccino downstairs before going to Abu Dhabi Mall to walk around before our ride to Port Zayed for our tour of the desert. We hand in our coupons and find a table. We are served small cups with large leaf designs in the foam. Caleb chugs his down while I try the chocolate chip with nut cookie. We were going to split a sandwich, but it was $16, so we waited for the mall. I buy three dates with different stuffing – hazelnut, pistachio (favorite), and chocolate covered jelly – at 2:30pm and eat them before noticing the Cinnabon.
I didn’t want the large one that I’ve had maybe twice in the past, but I have to remember I’m overseas where portions come in many different sizes besides large and supersize. A mini-roll and bottle of water cost us $5.44. It was delicious on its plate covered with cream cheese and drizzled with chocolate. I lingered in the moment and Caleb was content with watching me eat something so good, but so bad for his butt and thighs. We got in a taxi towards the port at 3pm.
I thought the tour was leaving base at 3:30, but at 4pm it looked like we were still waiting for people to get out of their rack (tiny allotted sleep area). At 4:15 we were waiting on another vehicle so that we averaged five tourists and a driver to each car. It would be less comfortable to be bouncing around in the back shoulder to shoulder. We ended up in the boss’s car with someone up front and the back to ourselves. We left at 4:30. An hour and 80 km later we were hitting the sand.
We parked by a camel farm with twenty or so eating hay and drinking water. There were some donkeys nearby but they walked away when we neared. I got to take a selfie with a camel and some of the guys were nice enough to take pics of Caleb and I together and me with the camel. I’m glad they all knew how to use my camera. Meanwhile, the drivers are letting air out of their tires to get better traction in the sand.
We stayed there for ten minutes then drove through the desert for thirty minutes. It was thrilling. I filmed for a while, but couldn’t capture the feeling of sliding down a sand dune or coming up on the peak and then going over at what seemed like high speeds to me. We came close to a tree and sand was flying by our windows, but I wasn’t scared. Our driver has done this since he was 12 and professionally for this company for the last eight years.
We had to find some of our group that had begun following another caravan and then we stopped to rest the cars and take in the view, take a group photo, and watch one guy do somersaults and another make a sand angel. Back in the car, over more dunes and we come to a road. We follow this, more sand, and then a village – or deserted booths that could be filled when the occasion called. We are led inside and I wonder where the rest of the group is. They have headed to the boards to sand surf.
I wait my turn for a board and drag it up the dune by one of the foot handles. I make it two-thirds the way up easily and then huff and puff my way up the rest. A guy from another group was the first to sit and many followed – including me. I was wearing a dress and didn’t want my bits showing. I made it quite far before walking the board back for Caleb to use. He got a picture of the sunset on his way up as I had him hold my camera when I went – which was a good thing considering how covered in sand I was just from the wind blowing it around our feet and me using my hand to support myself.
We made our way inside the booth village, past the camel ride, and went to reserve a seat, grab some water, and use the facilities. I wondered what I would find inside and Caleb told me it would be a bucket – perhaps too much run off in the sand would ruin a natural spring nearby for the camels. I prepare myself as I walk in and see tile floors, flush toilets, and running water in the sinks. I wash my arms so that I can get henna done. I sit with the guys while waiting for the line to thin and then they follow me in there hoping to get manly things drawn on their arms.
I got some swirly designs from fingertip to mid-arm and was distracted talking while Caleb got his. I heard him say his name and was awed when I saw it written on his arm in Arabic, or the artist’s translation of it. That’s also what the other guys got – name or girly design. Caleb and I tried to teach them a bit behind the meaning of it. And one guy asked if you had to continually reply it after marriage. We sit around some more, and of course I’m the first one in line at the buffet when dinner is announced.
I get pita, hummus, biryani, cauliflower, tabbouleh, coleslaw, and something warm on my dinner plate that has tomatoes in it. I’m handed a bowl of dessert. I clean my plate and wait for the line to clear before going back for seconds. Caleb grabs me another water. I’ve lost count of the bottle consumption today. The dessert is agreed to be either too sweet or a delicious mix of bread pudding and oatmeal. I agree with the former, but it doesn’t stop me from making sure that dish is clean too.
I’m grateful I’m wearing a dress so my full stomach doesn’t have a waistband in the way. While we are sitting there digesting we are given a show at 8pm. A belly dancer comes out of one of the many tents where they also had tea and dates, Bedouin clothing to try on, and sheesha to smoke with your boss. She does a dance on stage with her winged outfit, another with a cane balanced on her boobs and a guy from the audience, another with a sword balanced on her side, and then she picked three girls from the audience. The two that stayed up there seemed to be proficient in their movements and one girl seemed to be singing along.
They put on a good show and then the lights go out so we can stargaze for ten minutes. We all moved our seat cushions back and used them as pillows. It was awesome. I enjoyed being barefoot in the desert with Caleb’s command. It felt relaxing and peaceful, not all official and uniforms and such. Then it was an abrupt, “good night, go home”.
Our driver was waiting for us at the exit and the camels were too. I missed sitting on them and feeling them get up and down. I will have to do that next time. I’m sitting in the car with the door open and the driver asks me to close it while he stands outside making sure everyone makes it back to their ‘assigned’ car. That lasts about five seconds before I open it again. He asks this time that I please close it and then apologizes when he feels that it’s warmer in the car than the 35 degrees outside. He thought he had left the air on.
While we had a good time at the village, the drivers went back to fill the tires with air for the drive home. We came over a dune and the boss pushed a car out of the sand. I thought Caleb could help, but he’s not allowed – can’t be hurting the military guests. Our driver talks on the phone the entire ride home. We had shared a laugh or two on the way there between calls and the music. It doesn’t bother me as it gives me and Caleb time to talk and we talked with the guy up front.
We get to the port at 9:30 and I ask for a ride to the mall/hotel. The driver asks Ops (operations officer) and he says ok, then the driver calls his boss and tells me sorry he can’t because it’s not a designated stop. The drivers leave at 9:45 and we follow on foot. The command has already gone onboard and Caleb called two numbers that won’t connect, don’t have service, or whatever. The number I call tells me to call the broken number and tells me no taxi when I ask to be picked up from the port.
We make it to the road when a guard asks, “Sir, where are you going?” I respond for Caleb and tell the guy, “We are leaving base”. That seems to be enough for him and I see a security truck. I pause thinking they may pick us up, but they keep driving so we keep walking. We make it to the gate and the guard tells us next time to have our boss call him to call a cab. It’s too far to walk. It may be a mile and I don’t know what they are concerned with us seeing. One side is a wall and the other some machinery, lifts, and a few boats.
We make it past the market and to the second light intersection before we find a taxi that’s not full. We run across the last crosswalk, hop in the taxi, and the light turns green. He’s in the lane to take us to the hotel, but Caleb changes his mind and we go to the mall. It’s 10:30 and the mall closes at 11pm. We look at the map and then ask the guard about camera stores. He points to his left on this floor and to the right on the next floor.
We go left and ask inside. It’s the last one in-stock for $34. My battery is going to die and I have another day in Abu Dhabi. I told Caleb I could use my phone, but remember that a battery was trashed (old and swollen) while in the Dragon Hotel, so this is just a replacement. We walk back to the hotel, past all the slightly dressed women in the parking lot approaching men, but none brave enough to face a couple.
In the room, Caleb offers to take some of the stuff from my bag so I don’t have as much to carry on the plane. I’m fine with that. It’s now 11pm and he needs to go. He gives me back my phone, cash, and ID that he kept for me in his pocket throughout the day. We had also stopped at the exchange in the mall to get me another 240 dirham so I can see the falcons, pay the taxis, and figure the rest out. He left for the port and I got in the shower. My hair will by half dry going to sleep, but I need rest. We are both dehydrated, even after all the water we drank. And I’m hoping for another long day tomorrow.