Add to Technorati Favorites expat Abu Dhabi Dispatches: February 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I have lived here in Abu Dhabi for exactly a year and a half and a funny thing happened to me yesterday while running around doing some errands. I was just driving down the road listening to the radio when a strong deja vu thought crashed into my head from nowhere. I realized I was in a totally comfortable state. At ease with my situation and surroundings. I felt at home, whatever that is.

You see, before I made the moved here I researched many expat sites on the internet about what to expect when one moves from the Homeland to a different country and culture. Most of what I read said that there are three phases of adjustment. I read that that it takes more than a year to get acclimated to living in a new country and as an adventurer, I thought that was way too pessimistic. How hard could it be? I was wrong.

The first six months is the excitement of being in a new place. Everything is good as adrenaline provides the optimism that masks the not so good aspects of the new culture. One is still in a tourist frame of mind and all the sites the new country is famous for are visited. 

The second six months are the train wreck. What was amusingly exotic is now depressingly annoying as one finally realizes they are going to be here for awhile. The traffic, the people, the customs, the culture all tend to be a bother This leads to social withdrawal, homesickness and despair at the feeling of being trapped. Why did I come here, it would have been so much easier to stay at home.

The third six months, the phase I have just completed, is the awakening and acclimation part. Differences from my home country no longer bother me. I embrace, appreciate and feel very fortunate to live in a multi-cultural environment. I work and interact with folks from all over the world on a daily basis and it has taught this US Yankee that all people have the same hopes, dreams and expectations from life. My own life is enriched because of this. I have no regrets. 

The epiphany I experienced yesterday made me realize that I no longer feel like a stranger or outsider here. When I thought more about it, I am no longer stressed about the differences between my life I had back in the United States and Abu Dhabi. In fact, I have no urge to return to live in my home country anytime soon. I will someday, and it is nice to know I have a choice, but for now I like it out here in the world!

The parking situation still sucks in the City, I don't think I will ever get used to that

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Some Other Sides of Abu Dhabi- Part3

After beaching the kayak, we began exploring the area. The sand was a brilliant white with a clay-like consistency, slippery in some places. Some of the exposed sand looked like a sponge which was unusual as the origin of the holes was not obvious.

Porous Surface

Nearby, there was a shallow pond that was not affected by tide and it had seagrass growing on the bottom. In this grass there were numerous small crabs swimming about. and when I tried to catch one, it stopped swimming from me and in a surprisingly defiant manner it surfaced and snapped it's claws at my outstretched hand. It was too small to cause damage but the crab's unexpected aggressive action caused me to recoil my fingers. The crustacean, having foiled it's would-be captor, then disappeared under the sand. That little guy had "cojones"! 

The crab chase left me in the middle of the seagrass and after I lost the crab. I noticed a sinking feeling. I noticed that my feet were completely under the sand and getting deeper. I had visions of the old Tarzan movies where the bad guys got swallowed up in quicksand and feared I would be neck deep in muck before long. With great effort I trudged out of the mire and vowed to watch where i stepped from now on!

Seagrass, Crabs and Quicksand

I saw another marine creature near here. It was a a jellyfish like I have never seen before caught in a pocket of water a few inches deep. The tide was still going out and I wasn't sure if the slight depression it was in would end up empty, dooming the creature. It was pulsating like jellyfish do and was quite alive. I considered picking it up and placing it in deeper water to assure it's survival, but I decided against it. Ironically, the same painful sting that protects it also prevented me from rescuing it from a possible death. I hope it ended up OK.

Stranded Jellyfish

After reboarding the kayak, we ventured farther upstream and veered into a small slough. The water was but a few inches deep and the slough was but a few meters wide but it gave us a good look at the mangroves.

The Road Narrows

When we could go no farther, this small rapid of outgoing tide was seen.

Fast Tide

The narrow channel was surrounded by mangroves.They actually have roots that grow up.

Mangroves at Low Tide

Mangrove plants are essential to the health of tidal areas and are unique in that they are the only plants that grow in a high salinity area. The plants take up saltwater and exude salt crystals from the underside of their leaves. no other plant does this. Mangrove roots anchor the soil so it is not washed away by erosion and provides safe havens for smaller marine animals, which attract larger marine predators. The mangroves provide a fertile ecosystem. I saw a lot of fish.

The spikes you see are razor sharp and would spell instant severe injuries for anyone that would contact them.  Just joking!....the spikes are actually rubbery extensions from the mangrove root system. They are a way for the plant to get extra atmospheric gases and they eventually turn into baby mangroves. A way of propagation.

The Sun was getting low at this time and it was time to return. Luckily, we had the wind and current at our backs.

Underway Back to Port, Aldar HQ as Navigational Aid

Enhanced View of Aldar HQ Building. One of My Favorites

Approaching the 5 Star Resort beach, I saw another Black Jacketed walkie-talkie dude taking an extreme interest in our arrival. Sure enough, he met us right at landfall. He started asking us all kinds of questions as if we just paddled in from Iran and was getting increasingly aggressive. When he asked us what room we were staying in I knew there was going to be a problem. I did not answer the last question and tried to ignore him. For some strange reason, he shifted gears and asked who we worked for. That surprised me as that played into my court.

You see, I work for a well known quasi-governmental company in Abu Dhabi that is tightly connected to the tourist industry. I told the guy my employer's name and his tune suddenly changed! We became welcome guests, he became all smiles and even offered to help pull the kayak out of the water. I just then realized the power of "wasta" in this country and the reputation my employer has. I will bring my ID card everywhere I go from now on!

Many thanks to Al Raha Beach Hotel and Resort , our hosts for this voyage. They didn't have to let us launch the boat from their property but they did and I appreciate that. It is a beautiful property and I owe them this plug. The security guys were just doing their job. No hard feelings!

Al Raha Beach Resort

Al Raha Beach Resort

Al Raha Beach Resort

Al Raha Beach Resort

Don't forget to slow down and smell the roses and get out to the many undiscovered and under promoted natural areas of Abu Dhabi. This place is a natural wonderland if you know where to look.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Some Other Sides of Abu Dhabi-Part 2

So the launching went without further incident. Being midweek, the resort was rather empty so the event drew a few security guards who were no doubt were secretly hoping for a disaster in the making to provide stories around the dinner table that evening.

Teamwork in a two person craft like this requires some time for coordination before the desired straight path is achieved. I am sure our small audience on the beach was amused at the zig-zag course we assumed at first, but in a few minutes we straightened out and started to make some real progress.

View from 27,000FT, the slanted island is our destination

We paddled against a headwind and it was good exercise, almost too good as I do not paddle everyday and was not used to it, but I soon got warmed up and found my "Sea Arms". Now making straight, steady progress and out of the "Two Stooges" mode I started to enjoy the scenery. We soon passed this:

Giant Concrete Conch Shell

There are a a lot of very wealthy people here that do not have day jobs and I think this object is a result of that condition. This is an anatomically correct conch shell that adorned a large piece of groomed property adjacent to our course. I got a twinge of homesickness for some of the tacky resort areas in my home state of Florida, USA. All that was missing is a big "Shell World---Next Exit" sign in bright colors. This shell is obviously not for commercial gain and existed just for the whimsy of the owner. I kind of like that!! A "Because I can, I will" thing. I truly appreciate the effort!

Anyway, the scenery became more rustic just past this landmark. In twenty minutes we were at a mangrove estuary. 

Estuary Inlet to Lower Right from 2200FT

We paddled into an enticing small inlet and observed several interesting things. There were fish jumping all over the place, a feeding frenzy was happening. The tide was exiting the inlet at a very rapid rate, making paddling difficult, and then we saw this:

Large, Texas-sized Barbeque Grill 

This was quite a surprise way out in the sticks. This is an industrial-grade grill that could cook a side of beef. Apparently, some serious parties have occurred here or this semi-permanent facility-with a sun shade yet-would be not have been built. 

A great venue for a beer kegger and a roast pig. but this is a Muslim country and I doubt that type of activity has happened here. There were no broken bottles, empty cans or dare I say lost panties or condoms littering the ground. It was spotlessly clean. No frat parties in this place recently.

We noted the location for just such a event in the near future (just KIDDING!) and paddled upstream against the outgoing tide where we took a break, beached on a sand shoal and took a look around the amazing natural beauty that surrounded us.

Break Time...Barbeque Pit in the Background

Heineken Fever Sets in. Il Capitano contemplates how an 
outboard motor would be nice to get back to the launch area.

 Mom says I need to put on some weight, Mom is always right!
 I miss her Southern Fried Chicken!

Not too far From Civilization, Aldar HQ in backgound

I had intended to make this trip report in just two parts, but like George Thorogood of The Destroyers' fame, I have a friend named Jimmy Beam that helps me write creatively and now he is tapping me on the shoulder and suggesting it would be better to extend this to a third installment. I have a lot more to talk about.

If you noticed in the first Google Earth photo, there are a lot of paved and dirt roads around the island as well as buildings and houses. too. This is a mystery to me as there seems from the overhead photo no way for autos to get there. No bridges or ferries are obvious. I will have to look into this!

Next time, I will expose what flora and fauna that we found among the mangroves as well as why mangroves are so special. The eventual landing back at the resort was a classic experience in itself!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Some Other Sides of Abu Dhabi-Part 1

For some reason, folks living outside of the UAE. are rarely given a balanced impression of the place by the international media. All they hear about are Bentleys and Beyonce, Mercedes and Madonna, Ferraris and Federer...well, you get the idea.

But there are other sides of Abu Dhabi that are rarely mentioned. Just outside of the city are spectacular natural phenomenon that are not to be missed. On one hand, there are the beautiful, wind sculpted sand dunes. Never has barren been so mysterious and enchanting. In close proximity is the Arabian (never called Persian by those who live here) Gulf. The Gulf is a gentle, warm, sparkling clear body of water that laps against the Abu Dhabi coastline.

There are even mountains a few hours drive away from Abu Dhabi in the Northern Emirates of Ras Al Khemah and Fujerah. Southern California has nothing on this place. it is all here!


Abu Dhabi Dunes

Arabian Gull Coastal Waters

I consider myself a good judge of beaches as I grew up in Florida, USA and the beaches here rival anything I have seen in my home state. The color of the water and quality of the sand is world class!

I had the good luck last week to be invited on a sea kayaking expedition to some mangrove areas just a few minutes from the main Abu Dhabi-Dubai thoroughfare. My host, "Il Capitano" is a coworker from Rome that just bought a sea kayak and wanted to take it on its first sea trials.

The craft was a large two seater and I suspect that he called me not because of my engaging personality as much as my availability as a second propulsion unit and an additional pair of arms to help lift the vessel off the roof  rack of his SUV.

After meeting up, we drove to a nearby 5 star resort hotel to launch the boat. I asked "Il Capitano" if we had permission from said resort owners to trespass on their private property and flounder around with the kayak in  front of their well-heeled guests. He assured me that he had talked to a security guard previously and was told "No problem".

The retrieval of the boat from the rather high roof of the SUV was unfortunately a portent of more serious troubles. While holding the bow of the kayak in my upstretched arms in the attempt to free it from the roof rack, it suddenly turned upright and I lost grip on the slippery polyethylene surface and it came down hard on my chin, bounced off my forearm and removed some skin from my thumb. The boat was unharmed from its resulting bounce on the asphalt parking lot due to my personal sacrifice. I was not so fortunate. Another scar, another story.
Pre-launch, pre-injury and pre-security guy.

After assessing my wounds, I decided they were not fatal to the mission. We began to unload gear from the car and then we saw him, the dreaded "guy in a dark jacket with a walkie talkie" and he was heading straight toward us. He asked us just what the hell we thought we were doing and wondered aloud about our status as guests of the resort. "Il Capitano" tried to explain the earlier positive agreement he had with the other employee.  Our new nemesis was hearing nothing of it and when he got off the radio, he said we must clear our launching with hotel management.

After a couple of shrugs, Il Capitano was escorted inside by the walkie talkie guy. I sat down on a bench and thought this had been a waste of time. We were about to be kicked out. After a very long time in which I was considering repacking the gear into the SUV to save time for the inevitable, Il Capitano emerged from the office with a more ominous looking security guard with an even bigger walkie talkie. This was not good. As they approached I did the thumbs-up sign and Il Capitano returned it. We were in!

It turns out that the negotiations spanned 4 levels of management before someone was found that had the authority to say "yes". I had feared that Il Capitano displayed his Italian temper to the wrong person and had been detained by hotel personnel for turnover to Abu Dhabi's Finest and would be spending a few days in an uncomfortable downtown "cooler" before an appointment with a Sharia Law Judge. That's OK, at least I had taxi fare.

Such was not the case and the Black Jacketed Big Walkie Talkie Guy smoked a cigarette in defeat and idly watched us as we packed up the gear and carried the kayak to the beach in preparation for the maiden launch.


My next installment will describe the cool stuff we discovered underway and at a mangrove area. Unfortunately we weren't done with the security guard stuff either as we found out later. Stay tuned.