Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Nature of the Desert: Birds

Wildlife 020
Flamingoes are non-territorial.

People often think the desert is devoid of wildlife, but it’s not true. Where there is water there is life, and in the Arabian Desert, just like in Nevada’s desert rivers, the greatest concentration of species is where the water is: the reefs, mudflats, mangroves, wadis (intermittent streams,) and oases. Not surprisingly, birds from all over Africa, Asia, and Europe make use of these food-rich environments as migratory stopovers and breeding grounds.
This Place is a Dump! - Al Wathba Wetland Preserve

In February I had the great opportunity to join the Emirates Natural History Group touring the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, which is not open to the general public except for specially organized school and other educational tours. This outing is organized about once a year by Dana and Deb’s upstairs neighbor Oscar, who is a high school science teacher at the British school as well as a birder. Oscar threw a party the weekend before the outing, so I was lucky to meet him just in time to get invited to tag along.
I rode with Oscar and his friend and fellow birder Dave who drove down from Dubai to help out with the tour. Before we met the rest of the group at the preserve, we were stopping off to look at some gulls in a location right next to the preserve. “My girlfriend Gilly doesn’t usually come along on these trips,” Oscar said as he warned me about where we were going. “She doesn’t find this place very salubrious.” “Oh, I get it,” I said.
DSC_0175 (2)
Gulls love refuse sites.

If you think the place in these photos looks like a dump, you’re right. It is the dump! In my mind, it’s one of Earth’s great ironies that our garbage dumps and cesspools, which are places we avoid if possible, are so attractive to wildlife. Yet think about it: standing water and refuse breeds bugs which means lots of food, with no people and no pets to bother them. For some reason, birds don’t seem to be bothered much by heavy equipment moving around, either. I noticed this in my last job working on The Nature Conservancy’s ranch in Nevada.
Dave and Oscar are world-class birders.

The two birders set up their scopes. To me the gulls all looked alike, and before long I was gazing at the nearby workers’ housing, thinking about their lives and wondering what it would be like to be a fly on the wall – and that there are probably lots of them.

Which one of these is not like the others?

After a while, I noticed that Oscar and Dave were talking about one bird which was a different species than the others. “It’s just to the left of the cement block,” Dave said. I looked through my binoculars and, sure enough, I saw one bird that had a different beak, more yellow and bulbous, which I described. “That’s pretty good,” Oscar said. I may never be able to call myself a birder, but I have learned a few things from my birding friends in Nevada.

Al Wathba Wetland Sanctuary is home to 250 species of birds.

Al Wathba is a natural wetland into which treated effluent from the wastewater treatment plan is released. Many people are disgusted at the idea of coming in contact with reclaimed water, but it’s quite safe. This type of wetland is becoming more and more common as municipalities are developing better ways of treating wastewater, including tertiary treatment using biological agents. Harmful bacteria is removed from the water and, in fact, we could safely drink it.

Unfortunately for the birds, this process doesn’t remove certain chemicals that are byproducts of humans, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Although they haven’t been found to be present in amounts that harm humans, they work like DDT in that these chemicals interfere with certain birds’ ability to breed by causing their egg shells to become too weak for the parent to sit on without breaking. Sad. So, don’t flush your old pills down the toilet! Check on the internet for the best way to dispose of them in your area.

Al Wathba Wetland Reserve
The wildlife center, where they rescue exotic pets, will be featured in an upcoming story.

Declared a protected area in 1998 by the late President of the UAE Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan , Al Wathba provides habitat for 232 species of birds in a 5 square kilometer area. Because the underlying land includes layers of buried salt which doesn’t compress but instead pushes up to the surface, the water is very salty, but it still supports enough small fish and insects for the birds to feed on.

Since we had a dozen or more people, we split into two groups and I went to the blind with the first group. This was my first opportunity to see the Greater Flamingo and watch its behavior. Such graceful elegance! I love spending quiet time in a bird blind with other people, looking through binoculars or a scope, talking in hushed tones. It’s relaxing, and I recommend it if you have the chance, but you must be quiet.

Dave, left, never stopped looking for birds for us.

Next we went for a short walk out on the preserve, and I had a chance to chat with some other people. I was talking with a woman whose husband was in the group as well, a very tall guy. As she was telling me a few details about them a funny, déjà vu feeling came over me, and I realized I had met her lanky husband before. I went over to him and the light bulb lit up for us both. In fact it was Steve, the guy who gave me the “Quiet Please” sign at the PGA tournament at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. We hadn’t recognized each other because we were wearing different hats. What a coincidence! This town is already getting small to us.

Quiet Please 2

I mentioned that my friend Lucy is his neighbor – did he remember her?
“How could I forget?” he said, spreading out his long arms.

It's so great, how kids like Ella love to learn.

There was one child in the other group, a girl of nine or ten named Ella. As we approached her group, she exclaimed, “We saw a Bluethroat!” and showed us a photo in her field guide. This bird is very shy and hard to spot. Experienced birders will recognize its call before they see it. I asked which school she goes to, and her mom told me American Community School. I loved seeing Ella paging through her field guide, identifying birds. In fact, I think Ella’s and her mom’s enthusiasm for nature and ACS convinced me to sign up to sub there, and a few weeks later I met Ella again, as her substitute music teacher.

Ibis have a distictive profile.

  Our two groups joined up for the beautiful Arabian sunset and we were treated to the arrival of a flock of ibis, which is one of my favorite birds in Nevada. As we left, we noticed some workers (referred to here as “bachelors” because they are single or married men living here without their families) walking into the preserve. Oscar noted that although the property is officially closed to the public, sometimes the locals come inside. Good for them, I thought, that they come and enjoy this beauty. I just hope they don’t leave trash behind.
A golden Arabian sunset.

Hiding in Plain Sight - Ras Al Khor Nature Preserve
Wildlife 002
The blinds at Ras Al Khor are equipped with
scopes, binoculars, and an attendant
 to make sure you sign the guest book.

Mark and I drove by this preserve on our way through Dubai in February before I knew anything about it, on the way home from our first camping trip with Abdul. That would have been a perfect day to visit, as we saw thousands of flamingoes against a clear city backdrop that included the Burj Khalifa.

But we didn’t stop, so finally in mid-April Terry, Lucy and I made our way there, inspired by a news story in The National which Terry and I had both read, and simultaneously realized that we needed to get there as soon as possible. Many of the birds move on when the weather gets hot.

Ras Al Khor is a wildlife oasis in the midst of Dubai's swirling urban sprawl. Its name means "Cape of the Creek," and the intertidal wetlands, mudflats and mangroves support 250 species of birds.

The tide was low while we were there, but water was flowing in through a culvert, and in a few hours the wetland would look very different. This makes it worthwhile to visit several times, during different tidal phases as well as different seasons.
Ras Al Khor
Dubai Creek has been used for transportation the earliest days.

The preserve is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. We arrived when it opened, so we could see as many birds as possible before the daytime heat set in. We visited blinds in two locations where you just pull off the freeway, park, and walk on an enclosed boardwalk into the blind. As usual, luck was with us. Just after we arrived at the first blind, it was morning feeding time for the flamingoes.
Wildlife 024
The birds knew it was
feeding time before
we did.

While most preserves don’t feed wildlife Ras Al Khor does, to encourage the Greater Flamingo population to breed in the preserve. We were mesmerized by the flamingoes and, to me, it’s interesting how they all crowd so closely together to feed –  they don’t bicker or fight over food.


Hundreds of flamingoes peacefully gather as a worker scatters food onto the water.

Wildlife 076
The flamingoes were fabulous, but I loved seeing
the great variety of species at the second site.

After the feeding, we drove to the other blind. Of course, as is typical here in the UAE, we drove a circuitous route to get there, but once we were on the right road the pull-off was convenient.

There were flamingoes there, but we saw many other water birds as well: several species of heron and egret, sandpiper, stilt, tern, curlew, whimbrel, ducks and many, many more. I wish I had the kind of brain that could memorize the names and recognize more birds, but what's in a name? It's a treat just to see them in their habitat.

I know for sure that I will want to visit Ras Al Khor many more times. Mark will enjoy it; he likes birds. And it's a great antidote to the skyscrapers and malls, the freeways and rush of humanity that is Dubai.

Be sure to look at the two photo albums, below.

Thanks for reading, and remember to enjoy Mother Earth.

Coming up next: Abu Dhabi Wildlife Center - a rescue center for exotic species, and kayaking in the Eastern Mangroves.


For Birders: Here is Oscar's bird list for the day:

Species Code Number Location Date
Egyptian Goose 11 2 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Northern Shoveler 18 250 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Northern Pintail 19 15 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Eurasian Teal 21 20 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Little Grebe 34 25 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Black-necked Grebe 37 50 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Greater Flamingo 38 2000 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Glossy Ibis 42 7 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Cattle Egret 51 100 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Western Marsh Harrier 88 10 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Common Moorhen 113 4 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Black-winged Stilt 121 100 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Pied Avocet 122 1 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Red-wattled Lapwing 125 2 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
White-tailed Lapwing 127 5 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Grey Plover 130 1 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Common Ringed Plover 131 20 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Kentish Plover 134 70 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Common Snipe 144 1 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Spotted Redshank 149 2 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Common Redshank 150 25 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Marsh Sandpiper 151 20 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Common Greenshank 152 4 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Wood Sandpiper 155 1 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Little Stint 163 50 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Temminck's Stint 164 1 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Ruff 170 30 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Black-headed Gull 187 2500 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Barn Swallow 283 1 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Red-rumped Swallow 289 1 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Clamorous Reed Warbler 315 15 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Common Starling 354 4 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Bluethroat 367 2 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Yellow Wagtail 417 1 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
White Wagtail 426 50 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Masked Wagtail 427 1 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Water Pipit 437 6 Al Wathba Lake 4-Feb-12
Greater Flamingo 38 6 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Grey Heron 52 1 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Western Reef Heron 57 1 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Black-winged Stilt 121 25 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
White-tailed Lapwing 127 2 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Grey Plover 130 1 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Common Ringed Plover 131 1 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Kentish Plover 134 8 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Black-tailed Godwit 145 1 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Common Redshank 150 1 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Little Stint 163 5 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
[Steppe / Caspian Gull] 184.5 20 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Great Black-headed Gull 185 1 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Black-headed Gull 187 1500 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Mediterranean Gull 189 1 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Whiskered Tern 206 1 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
Citrine Wagtail 424 1 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12
White Wagtail 426 8 Mafraq Overflow Pools 4-Feb-12

Links to news and more information:
Emirates Natural History Group http://www.enhg.org/
For my San Francisco Bay Area friends near Martinez, check out the bird observation platform off of 680 near the Benicia Bridge approach, the dump, and the water treatment facility. http://www.mvsd.org/

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sailing Communities Around the World

Nobody wants to die doing something they love. They want to live doing something they love.

One of my favorite views
There are good days and bad days in sailing, but the good far outweigh the bad.

After a lovely sailboat race and post-race debrief session over several beers, I had trouble sleeping. I woke up about 2:00 a.m. I was feeling tense, but for no reason. We had a great time; we had met a whole new group of sailing friends. Everything was fine. After three hours lying awake, I heard Mark’s alarm say, “It’s time to wake up. The time is 5:20.” It was Sunday morning, and the first day of the UAE work week
As usual, I rolled over and picked up my iPad to check Facebook. The first post I saw was from a San Francisco sailing friend: “I just heard a boat crashed on the rocks on the Farallones Race! So nasty out there. If anyone can fill me in . . .”

The conventional wisdom is "No wind inside
the Gate means wind outside." This year was a
windless start for the crewed Farallones Race.
Photo: Norcalsailing.com

The post time was about three hours earlier; Saturday afternoon in San Francisco. Had I picked up the iPad when I woke at 2:00 a.m., I would have witnessed the tragic events of the Farallones unfolding in real time from halfway around the globe. The next posts were from worried spouses and friends onshore about boats that were out there. Were they safe? What was going on?

I quickly learned how bad it was: one confirmed dead, three missing, three rescued alive. (The number missing has since risen to four.) The stricken boat was the Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase, a well-sailed competitor in Wildcard’s San Francisco PHRF fleet division.

There are many stories on this tragic incident, including this one at   http://www.norcalsailing.com/entries/2012/04/15/farallones/lowspeedchase.html

This story isn’t about the Farallones disaster, though; it’s about the bigger picture. It’s about the worldwide sailing community, about what we share in our dedication to the sport we love, about safety at sea, and about how we strive to keep watch over one another, because bad things can happen.
ADCA guidone
ADCA burghee
Earlier this month, Mark and I became members of the Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association (ADCA.) ADCA is a small “paper” club with about 35 members. According to their Google site: “ADCA started in 1982, was founded in 1985 and has purpose to promote and encourage offshore sailing, racing and social activities out of Abu Dhabi. ADCA is affiliated to the R.Y.A.”

At the ADCA annual meeting, everyone pays their dues for the coming year. There is no initiation fee. A family membership is Dh300, which is about $82 U.S., most of which is spent on the buffet dinner following the meeting. I attended the April 4th Annual Meeting and Dinner solo because Mark was sick with the flu that I had unfortunately passed on to him.

Sailing clubs in the UAE suffer from the transient nature of the expat population here. Without consistent membership, it’s hard to start programs and keep them going strong. It’s also hard to have a consistent fleet and consistent leadership. ADCA is not large enough to have a committee boat or even a race committee onshore.
Bull 7000 Dr. Yalla Yalla in 2009,
sank in March 2012.
Photo: ADCA
There was quite a bit of discussion at the meeting about a Bull 7000 named Dr. Yalla Yalla that had sunk a few weeks before during a race. Nobody who was racing knew about the sinking at the time it happened. Days later, they learned that suddenly the boat began to take on water, sank, and broke up. The skipper and crew swam to shore in the warm, salty waters of the Arabian Gulf. Nobody will ever know why the boat sank.

ADCA members were concerned about how to know if another boat needs assistance, and what to do in the event of an emergency. Communication between competitors out on the water is by mobile phone which is no good in the water. VHF is not used because there are licensing requirements here that aren’t yet clearly understood, but club members are doing research.

Call the Coast Guard? No; chances are they would not be of help. The Coast Guard crews do not speak English. Could we have a “buddy boat” system? What if a boat fails to return to the dock when expected? Should we go out and search? Would that even be practical?

Lulu Island Race 006
Yalla Yalla Jr. is well sailed
and very competitive.
Sailors join clubs like ADCA for camaraderie and support. We compete in races, we relax and party on cruises, we get together after racing for beers, we trade tips on boat maintenance, rigging and sailing. We spend a lot of time talking about our adventures, the good, the bad, and the ugly. We want to be better sailors, and we love our sport because no matter how long you’ve been sailing, there is always something to learn.

The race we sailed on Saturday was part of the ADCA Commodore’s Cup series which runs from September through May, with races every three weeks. So far we’ve sailed on Unwind in two races of this series. Courses are announced by Marc Brugger, ADCA Racing Secretary, the week prior to the race. The first race we sailed was a simple up and down course in the channel, which we won. It was Unwind’s first win.

Our second race was more interesting and much more scenic.

Lulu Island Race
We raced clockwise around Lulu Island.
It was a beautiful clear day, which has been rare here lately because of the increasing humidity and sand storms. The night before the race a rainstorm blew through, and the wind was from the southwest and clocking to the northwest, blowing 10 to 20 knots. The course was around Lulu Island. We got a good start between the flagpole at Heritage Village and the end of Lulu Island, sailed around the west end of the island and cracked off to a reach (wind blowing from the side,) heading north along the rock wall to the first rounding mark, a channel buoy.

Knowing that the Beneteau 7.5 Dr. (Jr.) Yalla Yalla (the new boat sailed by the sunken Bull skipper and crew) was faster on a reach we rigged a barber hauler (to improve the sail’s performance for the wind angle) for the jib, and it worked well. But Mark wanted to try the asymmetrical spinnaker, so we were the first boat to hoist, which meant sailing close to the rock wall. It was a tight reach (the wind was coming more from ahead than behind), but we were able to carry it. The Mumm 30 Idefix was just above and ahead of us and hoisted their symmetrical spinnaker, but promptly rounded up, fell behind, and ended up taking it down. We were in front of everyone, including the big Swan 42, working up to the channel mark that (we thought) we needed to round, feeling pretty good. We had to collapse the spinnaker once to work upwind and stay away from the rock wall, but that was no big deal, the water was flat. And we have a new, flatter spinnaker on order.
Lulu Island Race 019
Yalla Yalla Jr. and Saeeda saili along the Corniche.

The two other sport boats in our fleet, Yalla Yalla and a Cork 1720 named Saeeda, were behind us, following our line to the buoy, but the Swan and Idefix were far below us, as well as the F27 catamaran Ocean Breeze. That’s when we realized it: we were headed to the wrong mark! We had to jibe and sail downwind, giving up the lead. At least Yalla was still behind us. They’re the guys we want to beat.

Of course, as Idefix later told us, they were happy to be in the race again. The fleet then entered the channel and sailed between Lulu Island and the Corniche to the finish – a triangle course.

Idefix tuning before the race.
Then there was some more confusion about the course; the crew of Idefix was yelling at the F27 and us to round a green buoy, and we could see why: shallow water. But Emiliano believed that it was not a mark of the course, and we could make it over the shallow spot, so we kept going. The F27 turned back and rounded.

This cost us the race. If we had rounded that mark, we would have won. Instead, we were disqualified. How I wished Mark and I had studied the sailing instructions! Yet since we are still getting to know the boat and the waters around Abu Dhabi, we weren’t upset. It’s all part of the learning curve. We learned a lot about the boat and what it can do.

Emiliano said it best: “The boat is getting better, without any changes or new sails. Now we are getting new sails. I am happy.” Yes, we have a new set of sails on order from Quantum South Africa, arriving in May in time for the last race.
Lulu Island Race 015
Ocean Breeze finished just behind us.

The downtown Abu Dhabi Corniche is a very popular venue for weekend activities. People stroll, run, bicycle, and ride in rented pedal cars along the sidewalk. I can imagine how we looked to them, sailing gracefully along the beach toward the Abu Dhabi Theatre. It was a beautiful sight to look at Lulu Island on one side and the city of Abu Dhabi on the other, from the water.
Lulu Island Race 020
Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association at
the unofficial clubhouse in Al Bateen Marina.

After the race, ADCA members gathered at Al Bateen marina. This outdoor bar and restaurant is the perfect post-race venue, with comfortable poolside seating overlooking the marina. The beers were flowing, and the conversation went from the day’s racing, to the course and sailing instructions, how to increase the racing fleet, the Bull sinking, and an upcoming cruising rally in Croatia.


Lulu Island Race 030
Emiliano has the right attitude.
Toward the end of the evening, Emiliano was philosophizing about racing versus cruising. Sometimes people don’t understand why we spend so much time racing. “But it makes us better,” Emiliano said in his charming Italian accent. “I have learned more about sailing from a few years of racing than I could learn if I went cruising for my whole life.” And it seems to be true. In racing we push the limits. We bond as a crew, working together and solving problems that make us slower or present a hazard.

When we’re out there racing in a fleet, we are not alone. Low Speed Chase was not alone. That they surely knew, and this was hopefully some comfort even in the direst of circumstances. My heart is broken for the skipper and crew who will live on as survivors of their disaster and suffer the loss of their friends and fellow crew members. At times like this, families and non-sailors ask how it could have happened. Why do we risk our lives?

Unwind Regatta 007
People who sail together bond quickly.
Crews that sail together for a period of time become soul mates. Those bonds are never broken. It’s the shared experiences of the sailing community that continues to draw us to this sport. Yes, it’s the wind, water, sunsets, and adventure. But even more, it’s the people we meet that keep us stepping onto boats and throwing off the lines.

May those who have perished rest in peace.
Lulu Island Race 022
There's nothing so gratifying as meeting, having a beer and bonding with a group of fellow sailors.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Don’t Hesitate - Accelerate!

An aerial shot of the empty land of Abu Dhabi, and the road (or  bridge) that was a beginning to Abu Dhabi's future. <br /><br />Eds note: Karen Sheikh Zayed Road ? <br />Maqta bridge<br />Courtesy Al Ittihad
The Maqtaa Bridge was part of Abu Dhabi's first road.
The development beyond must be Al Bateen Airport.

You won’t be on the road in the UAE for more than one day before you realize that you are driving in a brave new world.

You can’t be a chicken.
Al Maqtaa Bridge
Today it's even more developed than in this recent image. Our compound is at the upper edge,
in the middle. The empty land just below it is undergoing development now.
But first, you need to remember how young this country is. Forty years. The first roads were built in the 1960’s.

This news article tells the story:
Terry Maqta Bridge
Now there are two bridges where once
there was just one.

The first half is about the first road in Dubai, which was built in the historic section along Dubai Creek where we like to visit the souq and ride the abras. The second half is Abu Dhabi; the first road there included the Maqtaa Bridge, where I nearly got stranded on my stand-up paddleboard. If you read it, then you will know that they didn’t have traffic lights until 1980.

The good news is that, unlike in the U.S., the driving population here is young. I have yet to see a senior citizen behind the wheel of an automobile! Compare this to Walnut Creek, California, home of the Rossmoor retirement community. Or anywhere in Florida.

For more perspective, I recommend you view the first couple of minutes of this six-minute film clip from the 1960’s showing the UAE’s father, Sheikh Zayed, driving in the desert. It’s part of an hour-long film called Farewell to Arabia, which I am finding is a fascinating window into the region’s mysterious past.

Scenes of Sheikh Zayed driving in the desert of Abu Dhabi in the 1960’s.

This is still what it’s like for us to drive over the dunes to Abdul’s camp, except that we are in SUVs, not Dodge whales. Not much else has changed out there in the desert.

So, the road system is new, and has grown exponentially in recent decades. Construction is ongoing everywhere. Signage is confusing.

Signs tell you which way to go to get to a place . . .

. . . and to turn around after you've missed it.

Now consider the driving population. Most Emirati drivers are relatively young, and they can have any car they want. They might be the first or second generation of drivers in their family. Most favor SUV’s, which will hold their large, multigenerational families.

It's not uncommon to see one of these
pass you on the higway.
Yet there are plenty of super-charged six-figure-sticker-priced race cars. In the U.S. if you see an expensive sports car, it’s usually being driven by an Old Guy. Here, no way, never.

If you could see the driver, but you can’t because the windows are tinted, you would see a young guy, every time. Once in a blue moon you might see an expat driving a “starter” Porsche, Mercedes, or BMW two-seater convertible, but not often.

Expats drive small or mid-sized sedans, provided by their employers or purchased from other expats who are leaving.

Filling in the gaps are workers driving small imports which are in poor condition. Most of the trucks and buses are made in China and falling apart, or are old and in poor condition.
Here are the new rules that I’ve learned.
Highway driving:
  • When you look in your rear view mirror, be prepared to see only hood of a large SUV.
  • Remain calm.
  • Check your rear view mirror a split second before changing lanes and then go for it. If you hesitate, the car bearing down on you at high speed will cut you off.
This is what you will see in your rear view mirror.

  • Don’t expect slower cars to stay in their lanes. Expect them to straddle yours and theirs. Weaving buses are also common.
  • Cars hitting their brakes and slowing for apparently no reason are approaching the traffic monitor cameras. Note the camera locations.
  • Watch for speed bumps. Believe it or not, some highways have them. Go figure.
  • Watch for stopping cars and pedestrians, especially around noon, mid-afternoon, and dusk. It’s prayer time. Men are crossing the road to get to the mosque on the other side, or praying alongside the road.
  • Watch out for workers standing in groups along the highway, and buses slowing to pick them up.
  • The closer you get to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, the faster the speeders are. Expect to get whizzed past by several very expensive sports cars, fast enough to shake your little car.
City Driving
  • Check your rear view mirror constantly. Someone is always coming up behind you. Just get out of his way.
  • Keep your eyes on the road in front of you. Someone ahead of you is changing lanes across your lane with no reason or warning.
  • Nobody can touch you if you are in the middle lane of the roundabout.
  • Watch for blinking green lights, which means the signal is changing. Red light running is a big ticket item. Two or three green blinks, one yellow.
  • Defend your territory. Do not hesitate to honk your horn for any reason.
  • Watch for stopped and parked cars anywhere, including traffic lanes, especially near mosques, parks, and KFC’s.
KFC Mosque
This popular KFC doesn't have a parking lot, so customers park
in the two outside lanes, leaving the middle for through traffic.

  • Taxis are not to be trusted; assume they either don’t see you or are out to get you.
  • Don’t bother looking for signs to help you find your destination. They will only confuse you.
  • Don’t expect every street to have a name. And there are no street addresses.
Around Town 006
Green light. Turn only lane. Changed mind.
Happens more often than not.

General Rules
  • Don’t hesitate. Accelerate! It’s the name of the game.
  • Know where you are going and how to get there, yet expect to get lost.
  • Use a GPS but don’t listen to it. If its software is a month or two old it’s outdated.
  • Never stop to ask someone for directions. They either won’t understand your question, or you won’t understand their answer.
  • Call a friend, someone who is at a computer. Have them look on Google maps and talk you into your destination.
  • Don’t expect to be able to get there the same way this time as you did last time.
  • Use landmarks.
  • ALWAYS carry a map.
  • Observe the speed limit.
  • Don’t get frustrated.
  • Don’t get in an accident. You could end up in jail.
  • Don't give anyone the finger. It could get you thrown in jail and deported http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/courts/motorist-appeals-deportation-for-swearing-at-policeman
  • Have fun with it. Enjoy the adventure.
  • Be careful out there. It's dangerous.
"We'll park next to the Bentley."

Mark compares our Honda City to the Bentley next door.
We might buy a more sporty car to drive on road trips while we’re here.
You never know.

Thanks for reading. Drive safely.