by Nina Sabin - Travel
Most of our trips so far from Saudi have been to the European and Asian countries. We traveled a couple of times in the Middle East. During this next adventure, we drove from Saudi Arabia to UAE and Oman. We had nine days to cover about 1120 km (700 miles).
Our trip began with a 10-hour journey from our home in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to Al Ain, UAE. When driving in the Middle East, you need to make sure your vehicle is up-to-date with fluids and maintenance. Off of our compound there is literally a desert with maybe a few towns along the way. You don’t want your car to overheat while driving in the desert. The most important rule when driving - don’t go alone. Always caravan with at least another car in case you break-down or have an accident. You don’t want to be suck in an area that is desolate.
It’s always challenging to find a bathroom in the Middle East or if you do find one is it worth using it. All the bathrooms are holes in the ground they call hammam (eastern toilet). This may be easy for guys to use, but it is a much more challenging experience for females. The ones in the gas stations are even worse than you can imagine, most people would rather go outside than use those bathrooms. We were fortunate as our friends traveling with us had a portable commode with them.
Our day wasn’t over after the 10-hour drive. We then had a two-hour process to go through the border. Needless to say it was a long day and we were tired.
We chose to go to Al Ain to help with Vacation Bible School for the children of the missionaries that are reaching out to the people of the Middle East. Once a year the missionaries get together for a group gathering and some “R and R”, while their children are being cared for. John was in charge of helping with the games and sports, and I helped with the bible stories and crafts.
We also had time to explore Al Ain. Al Ain is an oasis city and the second largest in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. One amazing site is Jabel Hafeet. It stands 1,200 meters tall and is completely barren. We took a winding road to the summit. We enjoyed seeing the amazing panoramic views from the observation spot of the countryside. There were also numerous caves and sites of archaeological excavations to explore.
You can’t drive around the Middle East without seeing livestock and camels. In one car we saw a lamb, cow, and chicken. We called that mixed grill, which is a popular dish served throughout the Middle East. It is usually served as pieces of meat on a plate with Arabic bread and not in the bed of a truck.
On our fifth day of our trip, we left Al Ain to travel to Nizwa, Oman. This was about a 100 km (62 miles) of driving. Once again we had to go across the border. This was the year 2004 and the strangest thing we found was they did a retinal scan. This is the one and only time in all of our travels that we actually had to do a retinal scan to cross a border.
While we were waiting at the border we noticed the ladies in Oman have a very different looking veil than in Saudi. Saudi women’s veils (niqabs) are made of black silky or cotton material and have slits for the eyes. In Oman the ladies wear a gold mask (burqa) that is made out of metallic material and covers the lower part of the face. They believe it enhances a woman’s beauty.
The hotel we stayed at Oman had traditional Middle Eastern décor. Pillows to sit on instead of chairs seemed to make the experience more authentic.
Nizwa is known as an important area with outstanding Islamic architecture located in the interior of Oman. Jebel Akhdar is a mountain range that you can see from anywhere in the city. It is impressive and majestic.
Omanis gave Nizwa the nickname 'Centre of Islam' because it was the historical residence for several schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Nizwa was among the first Omanis cities to embrace Islam. The main landmark of the city is the large blue-domed mosque.
Since it was our oldest daughter’s eighth birthday, we bought a cake at a local bakery. We have found that Middle East cakes look amazing, but usually taste like cardboard. We found out they don’t use oil to make the cakes moist.
On the drive back to Saudi, I had the opportunity to drive on the UAE roads. Woman at that time could not drive in Saudi, so it was very exciting for me to be able to drive on the Middle Eastern roads.
If you want to travel to UAE or Oman, buy our itinerary to learn more.
Stay tuned for our next travel blog where we take back to Asia to the unbelievable country of Cambodia.