Saturday, April 27, 2024

Hiking in the UAE: Hatta Wadi Hub, Wadi Shawka, Wadi Al Helo, and Wadi Abadilah

During summer, the weather outside in the UAE is unbearably hot and so our time to explore the great outdoors this season was running out. While I was on leave from work for a few weeks, I wanted to make sure we got a taste of what was out there before it's too late. We ended up doing four hikes total in four different places: Hatta Wadi Hub, Wadi Shawka, Wadi Al Helo, and Wadi Abadilah.

One thing we quickly learned is that people who hike in the UAE must be quite fit in general, because every review of every hike we did in the past few weeks was rated "easy" on Wikiloc (the crowd-sourced outdoor hiking trail website and app, essential in the UAE in my opinion because so few trails are properly marked and otherwise you could get lost or find yourself on dangerous ground). Even though the hikes were rated easy, it always took us longer than the people leaving the reviews needed and we took plenty of breaks along the way. Our hikes ranged between 1 and 3.5 hours, and sometimes we struggled to find the trail on Wikiloc and ended up striking our own path back. Of course, we were limited because we brought S along with us in the hiking backpack and that prevented us from doing too much scrambling on the rocks or going too fast.

Hatta Wadi Hub had the most activities of the four, and they even had food trucks and amenities the other sites did not have. This is a popular destination for recreation and socializing, and it was easy to see why. The hike was okay and definitely the easiest of the four we did, but the trails definitely prioritized mountain biking. I would love to return with friends and try paddle boating and some of the other activities next time. The ice cream stand (called Glacee) was also phenomenal. I'm sure it helped that I was tired from the hot hike, but it tasted like some of the best ice cream I've had in my life.

Wadi Shawka was gorgeous, with sloping white steps up the side of the mountain leading to stunning views of the water below at Shawka Dam. I really appreciated the stops where we could catch our breath. Once we got to the top, we went down from the peak and took a turn so we could have a different view through the valley hiking back. Unfortunately, I did stumble on some loose rocks and of all the places I could have fallen I landed on an acacia thorn bush. It tore right through my hand and I spent the rest of that day plucking thorns out of my palm. (Just Google "acacia thorn" to see what stabbed me!) If you're going hiking in the UAE wilderness, I highly recommend at least a basic first aid kit - especially if you're clumsy like me! I thankfully got all the thorns out, and my hand healed nicely. What a relief!

Undeterred, we embarked on our third hike a few days later: Wadi Al Helo. You may have noticed that all of these hikes happen to be at places with "Wadi" in the name, and that's because "Wadi" means valley (traditionally a river valley but with the climate what it is it's often dry unless you go right after it rains), the best place to hike in a hot climate like the UAE. "Wadi Al Helo" is "Sweet Valley," and it was a sweet hike. This one had more archaeological significance than others, with a few (recreated?) ruins scattered around and a restored Islamic watchtower on the first peak of the hike. I imagine that part of the site is much more meaningful if you go with a local guide, as there wasn't much signage explaining the history or significance of what we saw. It was still a nice view, though. We tried to follow the Wikiloc entry I found on Wadi Al Helo exactly, but I think the farmer at the bottom of the mountain got tired of people hiking through their land. Since the Wikiloc was written, they'd erected a barbed wire fence and if that wasn't enough they reinforced it with sharp, high thorn bushes! Thankfully, M and I were able to walk parallel to the thorny fence until we made it back to the road and eventually back to the car.

We ended our hiking adventures with a trip to Wadi Abadilah. It's a good thing we ended on this one, too, because M said I won't be able to convince him to do another for a while after that experience! Wadi Abadilah was the greenest hike we did, with a start through some farmland and even running water. (We even saw some folks going for a swim in the water, but M told me not to go since we couldn't be sure the water was safe for swimming. I decided to spare him the stress.) The path that was described on Wikiloc was unavailable after a certain turn, so we tried to figure things out on our own. This resulted in not one but two extensive, rather steep ascents that ended up going nowhere - we ultimately had to turn back and retrace our steps to the beginning of the hike. M was not a fan of the high exertion and low payoff combo of those attempts to find the correct path, and we spent a couple days at home relaxing with no outside commitments as our reward.

If you're living in or visiting the UAE, that doesn't mean you have to give up the great outdoors. There is incredible nature in this country that is well worth exploring any time you can escape the sweltering summer heat. I love the opportunity hiking gives us to bond as a family, get some fresh air outside of the city, and experience other parts of the UAE besides Dubai. It's quite different than it is back home, but it wouldn't be any fun if everything everywhere was the same, anyway.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A Two-Week Staycation Plus One-Week Eid Holiday in Dubai

I took some much-needed time off of work these past few weeks. However, unlike most of my vacations where I travel to some far-flung locale, this time I decided to do a staycation at home. It was so nice! I had time to do so many things I've been putting off, as well as restart some habits I mean to keep up with but sometimes run out of time to do. (For example, I'm using Anki, Duolingo, and Drops - my favorite language learning and refresher apps - consistently again.)

M and I used the time to play a lot of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. We have so much nostalgia for the Legend of Zelda games, which we played as kids, but they've gotten so much better over time. The storyline of this game moved me more than any other one I can remember. I love exploring the world and solving the puzzles and M loves nabbing all the collectibles as we go. We make a great team.

We got to explore a few sights in Dubai that we normally find it difficult to make time for around my work schedule. We went to Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary and saw wild flamingos. S was thrilled!

We also visited The Green Planet, an "indoor rainforest" and nature conservation and education site tailored to families. We saw lemurs that reminded me of the PBS show Zoboomafoo (any other 90s kids have nostalgia for this? M didn't!) and some unique birds, frogs, snakes, and other animals.

It was also really nice to have the chance to learn things that have nothing to do with my job. I spent a little time learning how to look at art thanks to a free, self-guided art course from the art historian who created the DailyArt app, which gives a summary of a new piece of fine art every day. My break also happened to overlap with General Conference, a semiannual broadcast of spiritual messages for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), like me. I had some church friends over to watch, and it was so nice.

We had the chance to celebrate Easter, including S's first-ever Easter egg hunt eggsecuted (hehe) by yours truly. I filled reusable Easter eggs with mini M&Ms and Easter-related Bible quotes and hid them around our apartment. S sprinted as fast as his little legs could carry him all over the place and tried to pick up as many eggs as possible at once. It was so cute. I don't know what he was more excited for: finding the eggs, shaking them, or eating the chocolate.

Then, we had a week-long public holiday for Eid Al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan, for which we went to an Emirati restaurant, Al Fanar, to see fireworks over the water in the part of Dubai called Festival City. It wasn't the first time we took S to see fireworks, but it was the first time he was aware enough to see what was going on and be actively impressed. I'll never forget his little "wooooooooow" at the sight.

Amazingly, it happened to be S's birthday during this break, as well, and I can't believe he's two! We spent a long time teaching him to say "two" instead of "almost two" when people ask him how old he is. (Of course, usually he's too shy to say anything when somebody asks, but at least we tried.) We decided to do a family staycation at a local beach resort in Dubai with a kids' club, playground, and wading pool, and S loved it. We went for long walks on the boardwalk together as a family, tried delicious food in multiple different hotel restaurants, and watched S fall in love with the wading pool (with me, the other water lover of this family, by his side).

We also did some hikes together as a family as half-day trips, exploring a bit of the emirates but returning to Dubai each day. I'll do a separate blog post on all of our recent hiking adventures, or this one will get very long very quickly! Suffice it to say I feel much more recharged, restored, and ready to get back into the workweek when I return.

I hoped to disconnect more fully from work during my break, but for my last week I was assigned to be a control officer for someone landing in Dubai the day I get back to the office - so I had to do some work preparing for that person's arrival in advance. In classic control officer fashion, that same person's visit ended up getting cancelled - thankfully before my planning got too far. All in all, though, I was able to get the rest I needed, so I feel good about going back. I hope everyone reading this can also find a moment of peace and rest in their life.