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.

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