Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Midnight at the Oasis

(Photos by Melissa. Thanks!)
Just returned from our adventure into the desert. Qasr Al Sarab is located about a two hour drive from Abu Dhabi. Once one heads inland from the coast you are surrounded by nothingness pretty fast. You drive through the suburbs where the working class are housed. First "suburbs" and then the labor camps. Pretty bleak places. Then industrial areas. Huge power lines cross the desert. As we are driving I wonder outloud how the electricity is generated to feed these huge power lines. There are no mountains and therefore no waterfalls to generate electricity, as I am used to back home. I wonder if electricity can be generated from gasoline as that is something that they do have a lot of out here.

Soon we enter the desert. As far as you can see are sand dunes. Much the color of the Palouse hills at harvest time. Every once in a while there is an oil facility where the richness of this country is brought to the surface. Off in the distance I see a flame where gas is burned off. This is all out in the middle of nowhere. The road is a decent asphalt two laner slicing through the desert. Not much traffic. According to the directions we pass through towns but there are no towns. There is one sign and road leading to a place called Gasco. Along the road there are hitchikers, working men in "pajamas" and head scarfs. We wonder outloud where the heck they came from, here in the middle of nowhere. They pull their thumbs in when they realize that it is two blond women in the approaching car.

As we drive we are intent on camel spotting. In our four months in the UAE we have yet to see our first wild camels. We know they are somewhere out there and we are excited to have our first sighting. We imagine every bush in the distance is a camel. And then, of in the distance we see a small herd. Definately camels this time. But not close enought to really encounter. Eventually we see more. Pretty amazing. These huge animals out strolling in the middle of nowhere. Just walking along in little groups. Crossing the dunes. No destination in sight we wonder what they are journeying to. Kind of like us.

We head over a dip and Melissa all but slams on the brakes. There is a herd just walking along the fence that separates the desert from the road. The camel fence. She pulls over, puts on the hazards and is running off to the fence before I know what's up. She has been intent on having a camel spotting since she arrived and is not going to wait another minute. I quickly follow. The camels stop their forward motion to look at these two white women running towards them. Melissa stops about 30 feet away, remembering stories of how camels spit. We start taking pictures. We get quite close though are leery of camel lugie. But just for good parting measure Melissa spits in their direction. It's one of those things we want to experience. Well see, not experience. Fortunately the camels do not return the gesture.

We follow the road to Hameem where we are supposed to turn. Only we don't know we are in Hameem because there, again, is no town. There is a petrol station, and as per instructions we take the second U-turn after the petrol station. Fortunately there is a sign pointing us onto a gravel road into the desert towards the Qasr Al Sarab. Then we go through an archway of sorts. With large urns and basketry and start the 12 kilometer travel to the resort. Melissa says it's like driving in snow as the road shifts around on her. Though the road is winding it is easy to tell if another vehicle is nearby because of the dust storm it kicks up.

Just as we have about given up we come around a corner and there is another archway and some palm trees and then a magnificent resort opens up in front of us. We cross a bridge, not unlike a drawbridge over a moat (albeit a dry moat). A fountain in the courtyard welcomes us and we pull our car amongst the others checking in. Where were these travellers on our way in? We enter into a huge lobby with more fountains and some lovely incense wafting through the air. We hand in our passports and are told to wait in the lobby amongst the other arrivals. It's a big lobby with lots of seating area and beautiful staff from all over the world helping the guests. We are offered some cold fruity drink and before long are escorted by a lovely young Asian women to our deluxe room. By the way, the "deluxe room" is the most basic room available. And even as such we can only afford to stay one night at about $400.

The resort is a maze of stairs and passageways and bridges and walls. I hope we will be able to find our way back to the room once we venture out. The buildings are clay with cutouts on the top. All doors are solid heavy wood with large metal fittings. It feels very much like a desert fortress. The doors open up to our suite and we sigh with contentment. The furnishings are beautiful. We have a private patio with lawn overlooking the hills of the desert. The bathroom is stupendous. The first time I have checked into a hotel and thought I could be happy just spending my vacaiton in the bathroom! The tub is the largest one I've ever been in. I will think later as I am soaking in it that this is such a waste to be in alone.

While we wait for our bags to be delivered we check out all the drawers and features. Lots of little extras. Like our own toothbrushes and toothpaste in boxes saying "time for teeth" next to the "time for nails" and "time for hair" with files and combs. We quickly devour the box of dried fruits that have been left for us. Then we start to get antsy. We are waiting for our luggage to be delivered. This is our first sign that things are not as perfect as they appear to be. Three calls to the desk after good hour and a half. No, our bags are not lost. It's just that they have so many people checking out and so many people checking in that they are not able to keep up. Nor are they able to call me back as they have promised to do to assure me that the bags really are not lost. We want to get to the swimming pool. We want to lay out and soak in the sun and get some good people watching in.

Finally the bags arrive and we start the trek to the pool. It is a long walk but pleasant as we wind our way through the hotel and the grounds Up stairs. Down stairs. Down hallways. Accross lawns. But the trip is worth it. The pool is gorgeous. We have a little challenge finding two empty chairs together. We ask for some help. A harried guy walks us around until chairs are found and then dissappears to get us towels. he is gone a long time and finally he comes. Gracious. The staff are al gracious. Just overworked, hard to find and long about the delivery. We stay by the pool until sunset. The sunset is pretty special. We see several guests have hiked up some nearby dunes to watch it. We are in swimsuites and flipflops so the trek won't happen for us. This time. We watch from the comfort of the patio. Then head back to the room to clean up and rest up for dinner.

According to the website there are four restaurants at the place. We are relaxed and not into making major decisions so we opt for the closest one which turns out to be the buffet one. As fancy as this resort is, the buffet is pretty non-descript. Generally not impressive, except for the dessert buffet. I guess it's good that the other courses were not that impressive as that left more room for the dessert. I do get to expreience my dessert oasis in the desert afterall! We call it a night and return to the room which has been "turned down" for us, with slippers placed by the beds and covers turned down.

In the morning we head back to the pool, soak in some sun and rest up. We get lunch at the poolside restaurant before heading back to Abu Dhabi. We try more camel spotting on the road back. See several off in the distance and the same fence side gang on the return. Then we run accross a group of about thirty not too far from the road. Several are laying down. This seems to be a younger group. No large ones in the midst. Teenagers I think. We pull over and try to lure them over with our sorry imitations of camel talk. Much to our surprise it works. They cautiously come towards the fence. We are amazed at our camel speakng skills. There are grumbling noises coming from them as well. Soon we are nearly face to face. At least within spitting distance (theirs, not ours) It is a lovely encounter and good way to finish our journey into the desert. Operation camel spotting a success! One midnight at the oasis. Camels sent to bed.

(I apologize in advance for getting this tune stuck in your head...)

"Midnight At The Oasis"

Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Shadows paintin' our faces
Traces of romance in our heads

Heaven's holdin' a half-moon
Shinin' just for us
Let's slip off to a sand dune, real soon
And kick up a little dust

Come on, Cactus is our friend
He'll point out the way
Come on, 'til the evenin' ends
'Til the evenin' ends

You don't have to answer
There's no need to speak
I'll be your belly dancer, prancer
And you can be my sheik

I know your Daddy's a sultan
A nomad known to all
With fifty girls to attend him, they all send him
Jump at his beck and call

But you won't need no harem, honey
When I'm by your side
And you won't need no camel, no no
When I take you for a ride

Come on, Cactus is our friend
He'll point out the way
Come on, 'til the evenin' ends
'Til the evenin' ends

Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Got shadows paintin' our faces
And traces of romance in our heads

Oh, come on...



kelleym said...

What a fantastic trip! The resort really and truly is an oasis... amazing pictures, wonderful story. A nice, warm reflection to read on a cold, blustery night back home... major snow in the passes - could be down in the lowlands this weekend. Brrrrr!

Maryellen said...

So happy to have "found" your post again. You swept me away for a brief 10 minutes to exotic travels in the desert. I went to hear Nora Ephron last night talk about her latest book "I Remember Nothing"...you would love it. Do they have book stores there? Will continue to stay connected and follow you. Much Love, Maryellen (M.E.)