United Arab Emirates: The Empty Quarter

237 km and 551m of altitude gain (in total 7,842km and 48,082m of altitude gain)
237 km and 551m of altitude gain (in total 7,842km and 48,082m of altitude gain)

14 – 27 February, 2016 – It was time to end our hippie existence at the beach as our Dubai friends had invited us to a desert trip to the Empty Quarter, an experience we definitely didn’t want to miss. As we had enough time for the slightly more than 200km we hoped to find another beach camp spot in Oman before finally leaving the country. Despite a breathtaking and ear-popping ride on Oman’s most scenic coastal road there was only one suitable beach for us, but having cycled less than 20km we decided to move on not knowing that we wouldn’t find another place for a quiet rest – all of the other beaches were far too small and hence too close to the road. So we ended up crossing the border, which was challenging because we had to deal with the most stupid border officer you can imagine. First he didn’t speak English while only dealing with foreign passports and second he wouldn’t understand how we got to Musandam even though two other officers explained to him several times that we took the ferry. It felt as if we had spent hours at this border post and we were relieved when the guy finally stamped our passports and let us leave. The rest of the day we cycled through one big industrial area on a dusty highway together with hundreds of trucks. No fun at all and we were glad when we finally reached a resthouse, where we pitched our tent next to the empty swimming pool following another nightmarish discussion with the guesthouse staff. We just didn’t want to pay a lot of money for a depressing room and beach camping wasn’t possible due to all the factories.

Musandam Coastal Road:

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Camping next to an empty swimming pool
Camping next to an empty swimming pool

The next day we managed to find a smaller road again next to the sea, a big relief. Right after lunch an Emirati stopped us to take our picture in front of an old museum. He insisted on inviting us for a drink as we objected to having lunch right after lunch. We slowly continued cycling always looking for a good spot to camp. At around 4pm we stopped in a small village at a mosque to refill our water bottles. It was closed though and a nice man next door helped us out. His maid had to refill all our water bottles and after a short chat he invited us for dinner – at a 5-star hotel around 20km further down the beach. He also explained to us where we could camp and so we moved on. I need to add that by now we hadn’t showered in 9 days let alone washed our hair – at the beach in Khasab we used to swim in the sea and wash ourselves with two bottles of fresh water afterwards and in yesterday’s resthouse we were shown to the swimming pool facilities – toilets where we had to use ice-cold water coming from the toilet hose. We felt a little embarrassed entering the fancy hotel that dirty and were wondering if we maybe could get a good deal for a room. Johan asked for the hotel manager and after a longer discussion even the heavily discounted room rate was beyond our budget. But the manager offered us to take a shower at their spa, which was heaven and pure luxury at the same time. With a clean body, clean hair and clean clothes we felt so good again and ready to meet our dinner host. But first we wanted to find a good camp spot. We cycled along the main road of the island and succeeded behind a fence of a construction site. Back at the hotel they didn’t want to let us in again – the hotel turned out to be an All-Inclusive-Place and once in we could have enjoyed food and drinks for free. We explained our situation but were constantly asked who our friend was as we would have had to pay around 80 EUR per person for food and drinks, no matter when we would enter. We couldn’t believe our ears but were finally let in. As agreed we called Omar at 7pm but he didn’t pick up the phone. Same ten minutes later and no response either 20 minutes later. We decided to wait another ten minutes before leaving again when the phone rang and Omar called back. He would be at the hotel in ten minutes he told us.  We waited in front of the hotel lobby and about 45 minutes later Omar arrived in his red Jaguar F-type sports car, parking right in front. In the meantime we had made friends with most of the hotel staff and all were very curious to know who our friend might be. When they saw him, they all grinned and looked understandingly – everybody knew him and he seemed to be a welcome guest. Later he told us that he is working at the presidential palace in Abu Dhabi and he seemed to bring a lot of people to this hotel. At the restaurant the chef grilled special meat for us and came with us for a last photo shoot with the hotel photographer in front of the hotel. Unfortunately we never got the photos as Omar wasn’t able to send emails – when we asked him to email them to us he sent a WhatsApp photo of our photo taken with his smartphone camera :-).

The guy who invited us happened to be a keen motorcyclist
The guy who invited us happened to be a keen motorcyclist
The guy on the left is the one...
The guy on the left is the one…
The only and ominous photo with Omar in front of his car
The only and ominous photo with Omar in front of his car
Camping at a construction site behind a fence
Camping at a construction site behind a fence

The following day we cycled into Sharjah only to find out that camping wasn’t allowed on any of the beaches and we had to look for hotel accommodation once more. Cheeky as we are we went to the Sheraton asking for a good rate for two world cyclists. And we succeeded – we only paid 25% of the normal rate for a double room including buffet breakfast.

A bike race happened to take place on the road we cycled
A bike race happened to take place on the road we cycled
Who else could have been the winner :-)?
Who is the winner? Johan of course!

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Some luxury after weeks of camping
Some luxury after weeks of camping at the Sheraton

After a good night’s sleep and a huge breakfast we cycled the final stretch to get to our friends in Dubai. The route started off nicely with wide palm-tree-lined beaches but would soon turn into an industrial area with narrow 4-lane roads and heavy traffic. I got so scared cycling there that we took a taxi for the last 15km just across the Dubai Creek. From there we once more cycled along the beach road and discovered the Bikers Café – a place where all world travelers eat and drink for free as long as they stay in Dubai. After two coffees, a photo shoot with their photographer and a short interview we said our goodbyes for now.

Our hotel in the background
Our hotel in the background

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This picture is now on the wall of Dubai's Bikers Café
This picture is now on the wall of Dubai’s Bikers Café

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Cycling through a metro station instead of crossing a major highway
Cycling through a metro station instead of crossing a major highway
And finally back in our cosy room 'Chez Nathalie et Stéphane'
And finally back in our cosy room ‘Chez Nathalie et Stéphane’

After a day’s rest and a lot of laundry business we embarked on another exciting trip with Stéphane and Nathalie – a desert trip to the Empty Quarter, close to Liwa. The Empty Quarter is the largest uninterrupted sand desert of the world and made famous by the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger who crossed the desert twice in 1946 and 1947. It covers some 650,000 square kilometers and includes parts of Oman, Saudi-Arabia, UAE and Yemen.

Our car packed till the top we left in the early morning to meet our guide and some other families in four different 4WD cars. To get there we had to drive for about 4 hours on a quite boring road. By lunch time we reached the Empty Quarter and stopped at a beautiful platform overlooking kilometers of sand dunes originally built for the nearby hotel as a remote restaurant but never finished. After lunch we rode further into the desert to find a good campsite, pitched our tents and left for an unforgettable ride through the most beautiful desert scenery we’ve ever seen.

A fully loaded car
A fully loaded car
Getting ready to rock and roll... deflating tires
Getting ready to rock and roll… deflating tires
Yes, there are still unmotorized vehicles in the desert
Yes, there are still live vehicles in the desert
Being the tail of your group means having always a clear view
Being the tail of your group means having always a clear view
Lunch break
Lunch break

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Setting up our dining area
Setting up our dining…
...and sleeping area
…and sleeping area

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Scary moment and yes, we've been there as well. But in contrary to this driver we made it in one go along the dune thanks to our fantastic driver Stéphane
Scary moment and yes, we’ve been there as well. But in contrary to this driver we made it in one go along the dune thanks to our fantastic driver Stéphane

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Drivers' instructions
Drivers’ instructions
Time for some fun in the dunes
Time for some fun in the dunes
Ever changing colors
Ever changing colors…
...and unmatched vistas so close to Saudi-Arabia
…and unmatched vistas so close to Saudi-Arabia
Our camp seen from the top of a dune
Our camp seen from the top of a dune
Stéphane and Nathalie
Stéphane and Nathalie
If you're sitting in the car this feels much steeper than it looks
Another scary moment – if you’re sitting in the car this feels much steeper than it looks
At a salt lake
At the small remainder of a salt lake

We spent two absolutely exciting and fun days and ended the trip with a joint lunch at the desert hotel. Thank you once again Nathalie and Stéphane for giving us the opportunity to join you, it was sooooo cool!

We spent another week in Dubai with Stéphane driving us around to be able to prepare for the continuation of our trip. Johan was busy packing our bikes as I worked and cleaned up all our gear. A few more times we all had lunch at the Bikers Café and on departure day Nathalie and Stéphane drove us to the airport – they needed to make sure we are really leaving 🙂 – and we once more said our goodbyes. We again had a great time at their house and cannot thank them enough for their generosity and hospitality! Hope to see you somewhere soon in this world!

Last days in Dubai
Last days in Dubai
Sundown
Sundown
Last lunch at the Bikers Café with Stéphane on 'Rare disease day' where I got a new high-vis jacket
Last lunch at the Bikers Café with Stéphane on ‘Rare Disease Day’ where I got a new high-vis jacket
Burj Khalifa between the clouds
Burj Khalifa between the clouds

Off to Thailand now!

 

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