Two Centre Summer Holiday (Part One: Madinat Zayed)

I couldn’t wait til the cool season, Liwa was calling so loudly I had to pay attention and go.
August is not ideal camping weather in the UAE, so we stayed for two nights at Madinat Zayed in the Tilal Liwa Hotel followed by another two in the Liwa Hotel, Misairah, all paid for with Groupon/Cobone discount deals.
Driving with two cars in Liwa in the summer can be considered a bit dodgy so we spent a lot of time preparing our cars and considering relatively safe routes.  We made sure we had a backup crew who were willing to come and rescue us in event of a serious problem; we gave our routes to our friends Wallie and Mehran who could assist us if needed (thanks guys, glad you weren’t needed!).  Our cars were checked over and serviced to minimise the chance of mechanical failure.  We took 24 hours’ worth of food and water with us as well as our basha shelters in case we had to stay put in the desert for a day.

WARNING: Do not attempt to drive in the Liwa area  in the summer unless everyone in your convoy is a very experienced offroad driver.  The sand can be extremely soft, the heat from the sun relentless and unforgiving.  At least one person should have advanced navigational and route finding skills.  Check in with your backup crew at the end of each day’s offroad driving so that if you are seriously overdue in returning a search can be conducted for you.  If you prepare as we did and plan thoroughly for the trip you will minimise but not completely remove the risks.

Day 1: Al Ain to Madinat Zayed
Before we even started the cars up we had an interesting encounter with our new neighbour Mr Ali; I’d kept my patrol outside the gates overnight (too lazy to put it away), and on their way home from the mosque at 5.30am he and his friend came across and introduced themselves.  His friend was very keen to talk about my capsula (aka SWB Nissan Patrol) and asked if I would sell it “la, ana aheb sayarti waiid” said I (No, I love my car very much), we all laughed and went our separate ways.Jebel Hafeet looked stunningly beautiful in the dawn light; note to self, get up really early some other day and go and take some photos.

Shower facilities in the desert

After fuelling up at Al Qua’a we entered the desert a few kms southwards, once the gate guard received permission from the EE to let us cross to Himeem.  It’s gatch and sand track all the way and we’d planned a little detour to revisit some lovely terrain first encountered when we were volunteers at ADDC2012 – we even found a fountain in the desert (broken underground waterpipe). Once we reached our first waypoint we had the option of 24kms cross country to exit at our friend Dhammike’s gate, or backtrack and take a right to reach the main road, followed by 30kms of blacktop.  We decided on the overland option, and made a good pace north westwards, until we encountered quite a large area of small, technical, very soft dunes. Neil had his only stuck of the 5 days in this patch, he got into an area that can only be described as a “maze” of dunes and couldn’t see any path out.  Once extracted from there we picked an easy path through high dunes, reaching a gatch 5kms south of our exit point – I would have loved to see Dhammike’s face as he saw us belting up the gatch to see him!

One at a time girls!
We stayed and blethered for an hour or so, then hit another gatch and some blacktop to take us over to the Tilal Liwa Hotel, near Madinat Zayed.  We encountered some very friendly and hungry camels on the way.Day 2: Sohour, then Madinat Zayed to Arada

Sohour spread at the Tilal

We swapped our breakfast for Sohour which is the meal that Muslims eat before daybreak during the holy month of Ramadan.  This will be the last they can eat or drink until the sun dips below the horizon at nightfall.  We were very impressed with the spread that was delivered to our room before 4am, such a variety of food and beautifully presented.  We headed to the main highway, having first negotiated EIGHTEEN speed humps, deflated and hit the sand 25 minutes before sunrise.

“magic hour” photo of the dead tanker

Our first waypoint of the day was an old dead tanker which came to a stop many years ago in the middle of the desert, I reckon it’s 40kms from anywhere and it shows up on google earth from 2001!

wet sand making a tricky descent for a front-heavy patrol

After I had climbed atop it and we’d taken lots of photos we headed south westwards over some WET sand towards the Arada road.

Ouch!  But it was still driveable and 120kms later we found someone to sort it
A man very happy at his work!

No sooner had we hit a gatch track and one of the shocks on Neil’s FJ gave way, so we nursed it slowly out to the main road, driving firstly to Mizairah Sanaiya to see if we could get it fixed, and then to Madinat Zayed Industrial area where we eventually found shocks at a reasonable price and got a pair fitted for next to nothing.

Sometimes it’s nice NOT to be camping in the desert!

Our afternoon was spent by the pool, relaxing and sleeping.

Day 3 – Any exit possible to miss the speed humps!

Next morning, we left the hotel at 9am, and I was determined we would have a smooth run to the main road.

You don’t often see the Tilal from this angle

We drove round the back of the hotel, heading southwards over some very easy terrain, taking a gatch to a “Wildlife Forest” where we saw the obligitatory herd of gazelle then continued southwards until we hit a series of plantations connected by unkempt gatches.

Self recovery skills called into play here!

After careful consideration we decided to drive down a valley of dunes back towards the road in the west but we had to shelve these plans as soon as we hit a really soft bowl.  The sand was ultra soft and we quickly concluded that we would be taking unnecessary risks by continuing, so we headed back along the gatches until we were in more forgiving terrain, taking a left then towards the road.

It’s not often the gatch is the difficult option!

The sand here was lovely, quite easy driving and we made good progress towards the blacktop, until Neil went into a huge bowl, and I decided it was safer to take the nearby gatch which hadn’t seen many cars for a while.  Guess who got stuck?  On the gatch, oh the shame of it!  Neil powered out of the bowl with no problem and lined up to be my anchor car to let me winch myself out of my predicament – after he’d recorded the (rare) event for posterity.

We arrived at our second “centre” an hour or so later…. to be continued

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