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January 20th, 2011 | Asia

Lowdown from Lima…

The crescent-shaped Liwa Oasis, the most southern outpost of the U.A.E. ... Beyond this is a vast sea of sand...

Satellite photo of the oasis... See all that red stuff...?? Sand, Dudes...!! Lots of it...!!

The Lima Oasis is a crescent shaped area that lies far south of Abu Dhabi, and close to the Saudi Arabian Border…

Wherever in this endless sea of sand you’d like to draw that particular line…!!

Very few people I spoke to could agree exactly where the border lay, and even fewer of them cared…

After all, we’re talking about the infamous “Empty Quarter” here…

The Rub al Khali, or Empty Quarter as it is more commonly known, is the world’s largest sand desert, and also one of the hottest and remotest places on earth… Average daily temperatures range between 47º and 51º Celsius…!!

It is also home to the world’s second largest oil deposits…!!

The road leading to the eastern tip of the oasis passed through the most picturesque desert landscape I had seen since those in the Sudan and Libya...

It straddles the borders of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, and is larger than the areas of France, Holland and Belgium combined…!!

The last permanent water dried up over 5000 years ago, which suggests that this not the ideal place to take a prolonged holiday in…!!

Date Palms have been planted all along the road that runs the length of the oasis...

So what the hell am I doing here, you may well ask…??

Well, I dig the desert…!!

It’s clean and quiet, beautiful and menacing, all rolled into one and all it takes to cover man’s intrusions into it, is a steady wind…!!

What more could you ask for…??

Well, if you are a resident here, I guess you could ask for rain… And that’s exactly what Liwa got while I was there…!!

It rained all night and for most of the next day, the roundabouts and streets were flooded… There are no storm water drains in any of the cities and towns in the U.A.E., or none that I have seen anyway…!! When it rains, water gathers in every dip and low lying area, and stays there for days afterward…

When it rains here, the water has nowhere to go...!! This roundabout was completely under water!!...

There are only two hotels in the Liwa area, and I located the Liwa Hotel in the middle of a brief shower…

Even though they had a “weekend special” on, (R900.00 a night instead of the usual R 2200.00…!!) it was still more than I was prepared to pay, so I zipped down the hill to find the Liwa Guest House, and discovered that this government owned establishment, although much cheaper, had a rather run-down look about it, and had not yet come to grips with the term “internet”…!!

A few camel farms are scattered throughout the oasis... Smelly beasts...!!

It looked deserted when I entered the cavernous lobby, and it took a number of whistles, yells and yodels to get a member of staff to slouch into view… He must have just woken up, as he proceeded to slump onto the counter while he answered my questions…

“Do have a single room available…?”

He looked off into the distance, while he considered the apparent difficulty of my question…

He followed this up with a loud sigh before he replied…

“Yes….plenty…”

If I had a glass of cold water at my elbow, I would have been sorely tempted to anoint him with it…!! The glass and the water…!!

There are no camping facilities out here, otherwise I would have made like a Bedouin…!!

A few minutes later I was grudgingly back at the Liwa Hotel, pleading in vain for a discount…!! I was told that the price they had offered was the best they could do, but they would throw in the internet free of charge…

One of the highest dunes in the world... We just had to go have a looksee...!!

With no real choice but the one being presented to me, and with the light fading fast, I could do little but smile and agree to pay the price…!!

I had decided to hang around for a day or two, and see a bit of the area… By mid morning the following day , the rain had stopped and I was able to make a run on the Big Fella…

I headed out into the desert towards Moreeb Dune, which at 300 metres high, is one of the highest and largest in the world…

The superb road leading into the Empty Quarter was….well empty…!!

It lead due south towards the Saudi border, and ran out about 25 km later…

It was a great little run, and apart from a nagging wind that blew flurries of sand across the road occasionally, one that I took huge enjoyment from…

Great ride on an empty road...!! And through beautiful desert to boot...!!

We stopped often, just to listen to the silence...

Through the Empty Quarter... Just look at that road...!! Eat your hearts out, boys and girls...!!

There are about two dozen small towns scattered along the crescent of the oasis and surrounding all of them are extensive date farms… This is the only form of income for the area, although tourists are beginning to visit the area in larger numbers as word about the amazing desert experiences to be had here gets out into the wide world…

Occasionally, the sun broke through the clouds, and raised the temperature considerably...

A fabulous new road had been built that runs the length of the arc that forms the crescent, and I had ridden along the eastern arm of the arc on the way to Liwa, which lies close to the centre of the oasis…

Companies offering excursions into the desert, combined with sand-boarding, quad-biking and camel safaris, are getting more and more support each year…

I searched in vain for a fish farm that is located west of Liwa, but after half an hour of fruitless enquiries and dead ends, I finally gave up and went in search of fuel…

At the service station I stopped at, large numbers of dune buggies were also refueling, and within moments I was surrounded by a large group of drivers… I was invited to join them out in the desert, but I declined their kind invitation… But not the coffees they had brought out to me…!!

The Abu Dhabi boys and their desert-dueling toys...!!

I had watched one of these buggies tearing up and down the very steep dunes and also come across a number of them abandoned alongside the road after coming unstuck…!! A few had wheels missing, while others had obviously rolled, their bodywork all but destroyed…!!

New found friends who invited me along to try some dune-bashing...!! And yes, I am wearing a raincoat...!! It rains in the desert sometimes, you know...!!

Many of the guys had driven from Abu Dhabi to spend the weekend testing their skill on the dunes… Clearly many of them failed the test…!!

Some of the vehicles were kitted out with stereo systems, turbo-chargers and plenty of other “bling”, and as I watched them pull away for another round in the dunes, their stereos blaring with hip-hop and rap, I knew I had made the right decision to spend the remainder of the afternoon in the safety of my room…There was just a tad too much testosterone in the air for my liking…!!

As they say in the classics, “No good would have come from it…!!”

The next morning on my way out of Liwa, this time on the main road running due north to the coast, I saw a few more wrecks alongside the road… One was lying on its roof halfway up a dune that had defied all attempts to crest it…!!

As much fun as I might have missed out on, I have seen how Emiratis drive their cars on normal roads, and I figured that if they drove that badly on tar, they were probably even more careless and reckless in places where there were less obstacles to contend with…!!

I rode out to the gates of the nearby palace, and chatted to the guard for a short while…

I discovered that my plan to ride to Oman using the road that ran along the border was a non-starter…!! I was told that the road ran through an area that was hardly ever used… The area was largely uninhabited, and large portions of the gravel road that connected the two tar roads, were under thick sand…

Entrance to the palace was barred, but the guard did manage to impart some rather important advice...!!

The final words of the guard were rather ominous, I thought…

“Do not attempt this road alone, my friend…!! If you are hurt, they will find your body out there…eventually, Insh’allah…!! Maybe the sand will cover you, and they will never find you…!!”

I looked into his eyes to see if he was pulling my leg, but saw only concern written in them…

“It’s that bad, huh…!! But most of it is tarred I believe…!! Do you mean the section of gravel from Himeem to Al Quaa…??”

“Yes…for sure…!! Nobody goes that way, unless they are in a big group with 4 x 4’s…!! The road changes all the time…!! No my friend, you must not attempt it…!!”

“But my map says there is a road….” I said, my voice trailing off as he took the map from me and scanned it carefully for a few moments… Doubts about my plan began seeping into my consciousness…

“Hah…!!” he said, after a while… “Look here…!!”

His gnarled finger was pointing at a line of printing on the bottom of the map…

“See…!! Printed in 2004…!! This map is old…!! The sand has eaten this road long ago…!!”

And that, as they say, was that…!!

The Dunes are coming...!! Get the spades out...!! Quick...!! Roads get "eaten" out here...!!

Back in my room, I reset my GPS, (which strangely enough had refused to accept the route I had planned anyway…!!) plotting a new route to Al Ain, which would see us skirting Abu Dhabi again…

A strong wind sprang up later that evening, and with all the water lying around, brought the temperature down considerably… With the wind came a heavy veil of mist, that descended over the hotel grounds and surrounding area of the oasis, blocking out the few twinkling lights that I had been able to see shining down in the valley below the hotel…

I could hardly see the bike that was parked barely ten metres from my ground floor patio…!!

I went to bed hoping that the mist would have been blown away overnight, leaving me with a clear and trouble-free run to the coast the following morning…

©GBWT 2011

6 comments to Lowdown from Lima…

  • Ken

    If you still in the area it would be nice to catch up I am on my way to Nairobi via Qatar 28th February and 1st of March.
    Keep well Ken Australia

  • Aha…!! The Africa leg continues…!! I hope your bikes are still in one piece…. I had to get Chris to send me some parts….and…well I asked him to take them off your bike…!! Didn’t think you’d mind….!! Sorry…!!
    I will be somewhere in South East Asia by the 1st of March….hopefully…!! Will hook up with you somewhere between Argentina and Alaska…keep a sharp lookout, see…!! R.

  • Ken

    Chris said he will e-mail me a list of parts I need to bring with me, so the list will be a little bigger. No problem happy to contribute to your success. Hope we will catch up at one stage or another I’ll be looking out for you
    All the very best to you. K.C

  • Mark Behr

    You have met a great many gracious people who have given you useful (life-saving) advice. It definitely renews ones belief in the ultimate goodness of mankind.

  • Charmz

    I’m pleased you decided to take the guards advice…..you too could have been eaten!

  • Åke

    And out there in the desert , like the roads here in Sweden they use wires on the sides
    of the road ! Looks strange.
    Anyway , the desert has it’s beautiness

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