Saturday, 21 August 2010

Climbing Jebel Hafeet

I recently had the opportunity to get out of the city and head into the countryside. I wasn't too enthusiastic at first (I was nursing a hangover) but I'm really glad I got off my derriere because I saw some great views.

We travelled to Al Ain which lies next to the Omani boarder in the East of the country. The road to Al Ain is lined with trees and is a fairly pleasant intracity link. The road was also deserted, we saw as few as 10 other drivers for the whole journey.

Jebel Hafeet is a mountain straddling across UAE and Oman and rises to 1200 metres above sea level. It's a natural tourist attraction, done the Emirati way. In their wisdom, they have ploughed a road all the way to the top. It isn't a dirt track, it's a gorgeous winding road with perfectly smooth surface. It's dotted with car parks every few kilometres and signs warning of falling rocks. On top of the mountain there is also the obligatory private palace and a hotel which looks like an evil geniuses lair.

The reward for reaching the top is a huge car park where everyone can enjoy their 'climb' up the mountain. Seriously. It was great to see the views, however they were slightly spoiled by the seven foot high fencing that surrounded the car park.

The actual summit is is a further 100 metres or so above, but it's unsuitable for cars and has some pretty sheer drops, so it has been fenced off by the authorities. We definitely did not climb over the fence and walk to the peak. If we did I imagine there would have been some truly amazing views across the desert that were totally rewarding. I also imagine the sunset would have been beautiful and produce some amazing colours in the sky.

I sat on the edge of the mountain and dangled my feet of the edge. It was a great feeling of wonder and a bit of fear. The fear grew considerably when I accidentally kicked a rock which started a bit of a rock slide. My heart only started beating again when the rock slide died out a few seconds later. Avalanche averted. But that didn't happen anyway because we didn't sneak to the summit.

In Europe, I was quite interested in graffiti. Not scallies tagging the local co-op windows, but the great street art by the likes of Blek le Rat and Micallef. Due to the strict rules over here, I haven't seen any graffiti on the horrible, concrete buildings that occupy in Abu Dhabi. However, on this beautiful natural monument you'll find graffiti (the bad 'tag' kind) scrawled all over the rocks. It's a bit of a shame and indicative of the contradictory things that happen out here.

Back in the car park, the surface is covered by burnt rubber. The local bikers obviously come up here and tear up their tyres, pull a few tricks and generally make a lot of noise. The car drivers look like they have fun too, speeding across the car park with people hanging out of the sun roof. The drivers didn't seem to pay to much attention to the children walking around. It's a shame everyone drives automatic cars, because the journey along the snaking path between the summit car park and foot of the mountain would be great full in a manual car. Probably too much effort out here though.

The altitude of the mountain makes for a prefect local climate. The temperature was warm but refreshing and there was no humidity. It was a popular attraction, with lots of families dotted around. We were invited to join two different families who had brought iftar picnics with them, but we had to decline because there were five of us and we didn't want to take all their food.

I would recommend coming to Jebel Hafeet if you get the chance. Even if you don't climb to the summit, there are still some great views and it's just really nice to get away from the busy city for a few hours.

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living in the United Arab Emirates