Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moroccan Lunch with Abdul and Family

Golden Tulip hotel, Khasab.
The Golden Tulip Khasab Hotel
Mark booked two hotel rooms for us and Tom Saturday night after the Musandam boat trip with Abdul because we needed to stop at the U.S. Consulate in Dubai on the way home the next day. When Abdul heard that we would be in Dubai he said “You can come to my house for lunch!” We accepted, despite knowing that it meant yet another big meal, and I began to look forward to meeting Abdul’s wife and family.

Golden Tulip, Khasab.
The hotel has a nice pool and also a dive center.
The Golden Tulip Khasab Hotel is part of a chain of Golden Tulip hotels in the Middle East, and only a couple of minutes drive from the harbor. Upon checking in, we were surprised and pleased to find that Tom’s our rooms were adjacent, overlooking the pool and the sea, and very nice. Even though it seemed like all we did on the boat was relax, all three of us felt exhausted. We rested up, and then went downstairs to see if we could get something light, just a snack, for dinner. We were, by this time, feeling seriously overfed and we knew we were in for another feeding at Abdul’s the next day. All three of us were in the mood for just a little salad and maybe some soup. And some wine.

We went into the lounge and ordered a bottle of red. Of course, as with most hotels here, there was a huge buffet. When we told our waiter that we just wanted to order soups and salads, he suggested that we could get the soup and salad portion of the buffet. It was better than ordering a la carte. We reluctantly agreed – even though we knew it meant that we were getting access to too much food, again.

A selection of mezzes, or starters.

A salad bar includes all the mezzes – stuffed vine leaves, hummus, muttabal (eggplant dip), a number of little fried goodies like kibbeh, which are a dough made with bulgur and lamb, and stuffed with an onion and lamb mixture, or sambousek, which are dough wrapped around a lamb or cheese filling. There are always several kinds of feta cheese, and labneh which is yogurt cheese, rolled in dried herbs.

Fattoush, named after the bread it contains,
is one of my favorite salads.
The various salads always include fattoush, a leafy green arugula salad tossed with viniagrette dressing containing the special ingredient sumac, and sprinkled with fried bits of Arabic bread (pita); tabbouli (chopped parsley and bulghur salad); Greek salad; beetroot salad; yellow corn salad; green bean salad; cold grilled vegetables …and this salad bar also had fresh mussels in the shell, which I can never resist, and I think there was calamari salad. I can’t remember what else, but I’m sure there was more. And there was a delicious creamy pumpkin soup. We tried to control ourselves, but it wasn't easy.

The next morning, I made sure to get up early enough to go for a swim. I had gone down to test the water temperature the day before because around here, swimming pools can be uncomfortably warm. I was very surprised to find the water actually COLD! Nevertheless, I put on my swim flippers and goggles and ventured in. It felt great even though, since I’m not used to cold water now, it chilled me through and through by the time I was done swimming. That was by far the coldest I have been here. We made coffee in our rooms and skipped the breakfast buffet; we just couldn't face it.

After a whirlwind sightseeing drive through the town of Khasab, we wound our way back along the coast road, while I took some photos from the back seat.

We managed to find the U.S. Consulate in Dubai. This, in itself, was an accomplishment. Mark had made an appointment, which is required for U.S. citizens who need services, except in an emergency. Appointments are available 12:30 to 3:00 p.m. four days a week; you can make one online. How about those hours! We arrived an hour early for our 1:30 appointment and joined the line of people waiting for the opening. No problem, we showed the confirmation we had printed out with our appointment time, and were ushered inside. Next, through security – no cameras or cell phones, no purses. We brought in our passports and wallets, and our documents to be notarized; that’s all. Tom waited outside under a palm tree. After a very short wait, we signed and initialed ten papers which were stamped by the notary, a very nice and helpful young American woman. The only bad thing was that each stamp cost $50 U.S. whereas it would have been free at our credit union in the U.S. So I recommend two things: One, get your papers notarized while you are in the U.S. And two, if you must do it here arrive early, at opening time if possible, regardless of the time of your appointment.

I took this photo using a wide angle lens.
It's the only way to get
the whole building in the shot.

Next we called Abdul, who told us where to meet him. I have learned that when you visit Emiratis for the first time, they never try to tell you where their house is; they meet you and lead you there instead. Which makes sense because there are no addresses here. And no street signs, to speak of, in the neighborhoods. Instead, there is a confounding system of zones, sectors, and building numbers. Abdul told us to take the exit just past Dubai Mall, where the Burj Khalifa is.

The Burj Khalifa can be seen from the DOSC private beach.

We met Abdul at Safa Park and drove to his house a couple of blocks away. Mark and I recognized the area, which is in the same part of town as the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, and only about 5 km or so from the Burj Khalifa.

When we were camping and boating with Abdul, we always asked about his wife and wished she were along on the trip. Lucy, Deb, and I always wondered if she gets upset that he is off having fun without her. Abdul always has a similar answer: “No, it’s OK.  She doesn't want to come. She won’t leave the children.” This time, he told us proudly that his older son was playing his first football game as goalie. If he did well, he would be given that position, which in the UAE means being paid a sum of money for playing in the games. And believe me, it’s a lot more money than a paper route! Do they even have those in the U.S. any more?

“And you aren't going?” Tom asked. Tom has three boys, all grown. “No, it’s OK, ” Abdul said. “My wife is there.” As this sank in, he added, “She takes care of the children. I take care of the guests.” This is the Arab culture of hospitality. If you tell an Arab person that you are in town, or coming for a visit, they will drop any other plans or appointments they might have to host you.

There was only a tiny bit of shop talk.
I asked Abdul if I could write about his experience and
views on marriage. People are interested. "Yes," he said. 

Abdul likes to talk about marriage. He has had three wives although, as he quickly points out, only one at a time. The Arab men we have talked with agree that it’s best to have one wife at a time. Otherwise, it’s too complicated. Too much jealousy, too hard to treat them equally, as the Quran instructs. It’s not possible. One wife is enough, but Abdul didn't find the right match until the third try.

His first wife was Mexican – Chicano, he says. He met her when he studied in the U.S. But there was a problem. Abdul’s mother was unhappy with the marriage. The grandchildren would be too far away. So, Abdul and the wife agreed to go their separate ways.

Abdul’s second marriage was arranged. This is still a common way for Arabs to become engaged. The mother announces her son’s intention to marry, and the search is on for a good match. Usually someone within the family is preferred, such as a distant cousin. It may even be a first cousin, in which case the couple will undergo genetic testing for possible health risks to their offspring. Either one of the couple is free to turn down the proposal, but often they don’t meet until the wedding and the decision is based on secondhand information.

“I married my second wife after looking at a picture,” Abdul told us. “This is how it happens, but it is no good. You cannot tell if you will get along just from looking at the picture. It is not love. It is better to marry for love.” So unfortunately the second marriage didn't work out, either.

“The third time,” Abdul said, “I married for love. My wife is Moroccan, but I met her here.” Abdul's wife speaks Arabic and French, but just a little bit of English. He had told us some of this story before, during the camping trip, but this time he added that until he met his wife, he didn't want to talk to Moroccan women. Why not, I asked? He waved his hand, shook his head a little and said, “They are supposed to have some kind of magic or something.” “Well,” I said, “she worked her magic on you, didn't she?” It’s obvious that Abdul married for love.

“Do you think that the way young people in the UAE meet and get married will change soon?” I asked Abdul. He nodded with certainty. “It is changing. Before, they didn't meet. But now, they go to the mall, and they see each other.” How soon will it change, within one generation? Yes, Abdul thinks so. His own children will choose their spouses. They will marry for love, inshallah.

Abdul's lunch (7)
The house is one level now, but
a second level will be added soon.
Abdul’s house is impressive, to say the least. Modern houses here have large privacy walls with elaborate metal gates, usually with some kind of opaque panels. Privacy goes along with the modesty that is so important in Arab culture. Behind the walls it’s sort of a private family oasis. We drove through the open gates. In the center of the courtyard was a large bubbling fountain, and to the left of that was a swimming pool.

“You can go swimming if you want,” Abdul said. I have to admit, I was tempted! Good thing I’d already had my swim for the day.

We entered the house, and went into the guest area, which was a suite of rooms including a majlis (sitting room), a dining room, a bathroom. And they were … splendid.

Abdul's lunch (1)
It's hard to convey the feeling of the rooms in photos.
The furnishings and decor were ornate, opulent, magnificent, and sumptuous. The coffee table was laid out with a huge bowl of fruit, including several exotic fruits we saw in Thailand – lychee, rambutan, and mangosteen. A tray held every variety of nuts and seeds, and another tray was filled with the most delicious dates, coated with chopped nuts – pistachios, almonds, and walnuts. We couldn't help but sample them, despite knowing that we were about to be served lunch.

Abdul's lunch (4)
Chinese style outdoor majlis

Abdul showed us around the property. The main house held the family’s living quarters. Outside were several outbuildings, sort of like fancy “mancaves.” First, we saw an outdoor majlis that Abdul called the “Chinese” room, maybe because the furnishings came from China.

Abdul's lunch (5)
Moroccan style indoor majlis

Another building was Moroccan, with a majlis decorated in the lavish Moroccan style and a tiled Moroccan bathroom.

Abdul's lunch (3)
Moroccan bath

Abdul described the Moroccan bath as a thorough scrubbing using special soap. Apparently it softens and whitens the skin. I think I could use one, after all the sun and salt water I've been in lately!

Abdul's lunch (6)
Decorative tagines are used to cover plates
and hold condiments.

This is the Moroccan kitchen. Abdul said they decided not to cook here, because the smell interferes with their enjoyment of shisha later. So, now the kitchen is just for looks. It’s much nicer, and roomier, than our Al Seef apartment kitchen.

Abdul's lunch (9)

Abdul’s little daughter accompanied us on our tour, stopping to point out the beautiful rosebushes in the front yard. Even though she was chattering in Arabic, I knew she was telling me to smell the roses, and we agree that they are very pretty.

Abdul’s wife arrived with the two boys, and she was very charming although we couldn't communicate well. We were soon served lunch. Everything was beautifully arranged, and brought out on fancy serving trays, which is the norm here. We were served three roasted chickens and, since Abdul doesn't like chicken, we had a meat dish – Moroccan lamb curry, braised with nuts and olives in a tagine. There were salads, and a huge pot of rice as well as Moroccan bread that was very similar to ciabatta. Abdul explained that while Arabs always have rice, Moroccans such as his wife don’t eat it; they have bread.

The two younger children ate with us, but the older boy – the budding soccer star – said he had already eaten. My guess is – Subway!

Abdul's lunch (11)
Pouring Moroccan tea

After lunch we sat on the couches and were served Moroccan tea. “Oh, I love Moroccan tea. It’s tea with mint,” I told Mark, who has recently discovered the digestive benefits of mint. “It’s mint, with tea,” Abdul corrected me. You put a little bit of green tea and sugar in the bottom of a pot, and then stuff it with fresh mint. Then you pour in the boiling water. To serve, you pour it into glasses – not teacups – from a distance of a foot or so above. I thought this was to cool the tea but no, it’s to make it bubble. We finished off the meal with some sweets.

Driving home, all three of us were in pain. We agreed that we would probably not eat for three days, and I don’t think we did. Well, except for the two roasted chickens that Abdul sent home with Mark and me.

Many thanks to Abdul and his family for their hospitality!

A final note: You may wonder why there are no photos of Abdul’s wife, and why I do not mention her name. This is out of respect for Abdul’s request for his wife’s privacy. Our American culture, especially now in the age of social media, we share information and photos. But I am sure there are many people reading this who can understand his wish to protect her privacy. 
I bought a Moroccan tagine (for braising and stews) suitable for the oven. These must be put over coals.
Tagines for cooking

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Abu Dhabi Sailing – ADCA racing, Yas Island Rally

ADCA Yas Cruise 010
We are two-thirds of the way through the sailing season, which runs from mid-September to the beginning of June, coinciding with the months of the year that human beings can survive outdoors in the UAE. Mark and I have been doing a lot of sailing during these cool months.

Our club here, the Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association (ADCA), holds races every third Saturday. We also participate in special events including the recent Emirates Open Regatta and an annual ADCA Yas Island cruise out. The following briefings will give you the season’s highlights so far, with some local color and characters.

The move to Emirates Palace Marina

Life changed for the better – MUCH better – when we moved from the crowded marina near the Marina Mall, over to Emirates Palace Marina.

AD Cup 075
The floating dock is used for prize giving and posh dinners

Let’s just start with the parking, which is spacious and beautifully landscaped whereas at the other marina it’s a permanent construction zone, and you may as well park across the street in the mall parking lot, taking your life in your hands to cross the street.

Plus, although it’s a spacious marina designed for mega yachts, it has the following environmentally sustainable green credentials, according to Marina Manager Capt. Toby Haws:
- ISO 140001 waste management
- Blue Flag Award
- ICOMIA Green Marinas
- 5 Gold Anchor Award
- Carbon footprint assessment done
AD Cup 069
Idefix and Unwind are neighbors

The $3 billion US Emirates Palace Hotel is in a class of its own, and so is the marina. The concierge will deliver you and your gear to the slip in a golf cart, and fetch ice if needed. They are at the dock to catch our dock lines as we arrive after a sail. And they offer catered lunch to be delivered dockside, complete with fine china and cloth napkins.

I have seen this myself – one weekend the skipper and crew of the Beneteau 21.7 in the next slip sat down in the cockpit and tucked into a pre-race lunch of juicy looking cheeseburgers and ice cold beers while we were setting up our boat for racing. The room service cart filled the whole cockpit.
AD Cup 006

The best part of the move, aside from the location, scenery and service, is using the floating clubhouse. Now we have a place right at the marina where we can gather after a race. We bring our own beverages and food, and the marina provides a barbecue. The post-race group seems to grow a bit bigger and more fun after each race, and Mark and I can never seem to tear ourselves away without being among the last to leave.

This year’s ADCA Annual Meeting for the general membership will be in the Emirates Palace Marina clubhouse.

ADCA Commodore’s Cup series 2012-13

The new marina is working out well for racing. When we were at the other marina, our starting line channel buoys were in a location that was popular with jet skiers, who loved to buzz around us in light air just after the start, showing off for spectators by disturbing the water and stopping the boats. Yelling at them to go away only made them do it more. Boys will be boys, and they pretty much do whatever they want around here.
ADCA #8 020
Lady Marmalade, Saeeda and Floosie before the start

Now we use the Emirates Palace Marina channel buoys as the start line – port end is usually a bit favored, but not bad – and we round permanent buoys offshore. We’ve raced the same 14 NM course for the past few races. There is a bit of current to play, some wind shifts and tacking, and a downwind run to the finish line. We always start at 2 p.m. which may sound late, but the early offshore breeze dies around noon, and in the afternoon we usually get a decent onshore breeze of 8 to 12 knots, sometimes less and sometimes more. We finish around 4 p.m. or so, put the boat away and head over to the clubhouse, getting just a bit of a head start on the slower boats who sail a shorter course.

There are thirteen IRC-rated boats registered for the season, and from five to nine have been showing up on the starting line. Despite the wide range of boat types, the racing is fun, with us on the Pacer 27 Unwind battling it out with our arch rival, the Farr 30 Idefix, who need to be upset from their perennial podium place as season champions.

ADSYC Nat Day regatta 013
Greta, Alicia, Emma and Matteo

Unwind’s crew is all Italian except for Mark and me, and the crew rotates depending on who is available. On one fun special regatta this year, the Abu Dhabi Cup, we had Emiliano’s two daughters, Emma and Greta, and Paolo’s daughter Alicia, all three chattering in Italian and singing Taylor Swift songs.

The Humpback Dolphins have been meeting us in the starting line area, swimming with us as we tack around before the start. We see Humbacks or Bottlenose almost every time we go sailing, although as the water along the Abu Dhabi coastline warms up they will surely go someplace where it’s cooler.

Starting the Race with Humpback Dolphins

At this writing we are in the lead for the season, but only one point ahead of Idefix, having taken a third in Race #8. A THIRD??? Read on …

The New Floosie in Town

Sailing Gulf dolphins 010
Martyn and Floosie

We took a third in Race #8 because there is a new FarEast 26 named Floosie in the fleet. The owner, a very nice Brit gentleman named Martyn, wanted to get something a bit larger than his National Squib, so Emiliano suggested the purchase the FarEast 26. It was delivered from China a few weeks ago, and Martyn named her Floosie, because “She’s fast and she’ll go with anyone.” Apparently she’s the latest in a long line of Floosies that Martyn has had. Emiliano, Mark and I went out with Martyn on the maiden voyage, to help him sort the boat out and figure out how to sail it. We agreed that it’s very comfortable and sails very well.

Then Martyn asked us to go out with him on a Thursday evening Twilight Race, which we did – despite the shamal, which is a strong northwest wind that blows across Iraq and the Gulf, kicking up some pretty steep chop. Whoa! First puff upwind the boat lays over and the outhaul on the main breaks. Nevertheless, we continued to the mark, rounded, and put up the spinnaker, crossing the finish line first – well – and last, being the only boat out.

ADCA Thursday 001
Mark and Martyn get along like a house afire

That evening we enjoyed an intimate BBQ with Martyn, his wife Christine, son Geoff, and some Cuban cigars, which Martyn enjoys regularly and Mark has recently taken quite a liking to. Christine “isn’t much of a sailor,” says Martyn, but I think she will grow to appreciate Floosie’s comfortable accommodations in the benign weather we have so often here.

A couple of days later we sailed Commodore’s Cup #8 on Unwind with Emiliano. It was light wind, with choppy conditions left over from the shamal, and Unwind just couldn’t get moving. It also seemed like we were faster on port tack. Floosie took second place, with nobody more shocked than Martyn. Thus, we are now only one point ahead of the Farr 30, and Floosie is a threat. This week, Emiliano is hauling Unwind, painting the bottom, and checking the mast and keel alignment.This is just what Emiliano wanted – more competition in the fleet, which he hopes will encourage more people to join ADCA, buy boats and sail in races.

Martyn was so appreciative of our help that he hosted us at the last running of the horse races at Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club on March 17th. He is just one of the many great people we have met, and continue to meet, sailing here. We just need more boats!

Emirates Open Regatta

Emirates Open Regatta 011
Tom, me, Mark, Ken and Geoff accept the 2nd Place cup.
The award money is coming, inshallah.

We sailed the Emirates Open Regatta on Saturday, March 2nd. It’s a multi-day international regatta, sponsored by Emirates Heritage Club and Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club, with mostly dinghy classes.

We sailed in this regatta last year, with just a few other keel boats. This year, thanks to Emiliano and his skill in getting the fleet to turn out, we managed to pull together enough keel boats – eight – registered in the “Cruiser Class” for our fleet to not only race one day but actually qualify for prize money. Instead of being awarded to the winners, the money is put into the ADCA fund to benefit all members, which means we will have a big party.

At Emiliano’s request, Mark and I sailed Floosie. Martyn was out of town on business but we had his son Geoff, who we think actually prefers fishing but is liking sailing more with the new boat. To round out the crew we brought our friend Tom, who has day sailed with us occasionally and laughs every time you try to explain how to do something, and a guy Tom met at the British Club named Ken who said he had done some racing about 30 years ago.

We used our regular up-down course, with three races. Although it was the perfect light conditions for Idefix we managed, to our surprise, to earn one “bullet,” or first place, on Floosie which put us in second place for the series, behind Idefix and ahead of Emiliano on Unwind. We are more impressed with the FarEast 26 each time we sail her.

The best part about the Emirates Open is the prize giving ceremony and dinner. The prize giving is in the National Theater, on the waterfront next to Emirates Heritage Village and the site of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover. After a young boy sings some verses from the Quran, the winners approach dignitaries lined up onstage and are awarded large trophies. Then everyone goes over to the Heritage Village for a huge Arabic buffet dinner, served al fresco. The regatta’s sponsors provide all this at no cost, no entry fee, no dinner tickets. The only thing for us that is different than other regattas is the absence of sponsors like Mount Gay or Skyy, which just means that we get home at a decent hour and nobody makes a fool of themselves.

Emirates Open Regatta 018
Walking over to the dinner

By the end of the evening we could see that Ken was already getting hooked on sailing again, so it was no surprise to see him crewing on Floosie in the next Commodore’s Cup race.

Sailing Arabia – The Tour

Sailing Arabia - The National
Inshore racing
Photo: thenational.ae

We had some international sailing celebrities in town recently, including a member of Richmond Yacht Club, our yacht club in the San Francisco Bay. Liz Baylis, two-time US Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, was sailing with three other professional women sailors, Dee Caffari and Sarah Hornby of Great Britain and another American, Katie Pettibone, on an all-female team with a crew of Omani girls sailing in Sailing Arabia – the Tour.

The Far 30 fleet’s racing began in Bahrain, stopping along the Arabian Gulf coast in ports in Qatar and UAE, then through the Strait of Hormuz to Oman, ending in Muscat. Mark and I caught up with Liz and the crew while they were in Abu Dhabi, and watched some of the in-port racing before heading over to our own ADCA race which happened to be the same day.

Sailing Arabia Tour 003
Omani crew

We talked briefly to the crew, and I was impressed with the young Omani women from the Oman Sail Women’s Sailing Program, who were out racing day and night, among the oil rigs and sandy shoals, building confidence in themselves and learning that they can compete in the sport of sailing.

Since they were rotating their crew there were a couple of girls who weren’t racing and Liz and I talked about having them come and race with us in our ADCA race, but it didn’t work out. Although I thought we had two crew coming along, they went out on the spectator boat, and we had to leave to get to our marina and get our boat ready. I think maybe they were a little shy about going out with us. Oh well.

Volvo Ocean Race 2013-14

Sailing Arabia Tour 002

The Farr 30’s were tied up at the docks that were built for the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race stopover. It’s been announced that Abu Dhabi will compete in the 2013-14 VOR, and Abu Dhabi will again be a race stopover. Mark and I will still be here by then – maybe. This time, we’ll make sure we get on a boat to watch the in-port racing on the water.

Yas Island Cruise Out

Every year, ADCA organizes a cruise to Yas Marina, a 25 mile trip past Abu Dhabi’s still-developing arts and culture center on Saadiyat Island to Yas Island which, in addition to the luxury marina, is the home of Yas Marina F1 Circuit, the world’s largest indoor theme park Ferrari World, the brand new water park Yas Waterworld, and the Yas Links Golf Course – none of which anyone in our sailing group visited. We were just there for the cruise and the party.

ADCA Yas Cruise 056
Ferrari World

We started out from Emirates Palace Marina at about 10:00 a.m. to take advantage of the ebb. We got a mile or two offshore where we found a decent breeze, and were able to hoist the spinnaker. The fleet consisted of four boats – Idefix, Unwind, Floosie, and the Cork 1720 Saeeda. Once again Mark and I sailed with Martyn on Floosie, because Emiliano and Paolo had their families along on Unwind.

Mark and I were excited at the opportunity to explore a little piece of the coastline and some inter-island waterways that we hadn’t yet seen. It’s always an interesting perspective to view a city from the water. All along the way, we recognized buildings that we knew, but had never seen from that vantage point. We also saw things we had never seen before, and were especially interested in what looked like an abandoned resort project, with Arab-style wind tower architecture. An Arabian ghost town.
Yas cruise map
25 miles each way
ADCA Yas Rally - Barry
Dockside celebration on Saeeda

The fleet arrived at Yas Marina between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. There was only one grounding by Saeeda but, because the bottom is sand, it wasn’t a big deal and they were able to sail off. The four boats tied up and everyone enjoyed some drinks and snacks.

Compared to Emirates Palace Marina, Yas Marina, which is also designed for mega yachts, is very noisy. There was racing on the track right next to the marina while we were there, and the Abu Dhabi International Airport is nearby, with a constant stream of approaching jets flying right overhead.
ADCA Yas Cruise 058
Yas Marina entrance

That, combined with a retrofit of the restaurants and other non-berthing facilities in the marina, made it a bit less convenient than we would have liked, so before long everyone was taking the concierge golf cars to the Yas Viceroy Hotel to catch taxis.

Some people had booked a room in one of the hotels on the island, but Mark and I went home which, as you can see from the map, is exactly half way between the Palace marina and Yas – about twelve miles.

We returned at 7:30 for the dinner, and as we arrived at the hotel complex, the place was buzzing with people arriving with Corvettes for a racing event. ADCA’s social secretary, Liz, arranged for a private poolside buffet dinner for our group at the Yas Rotana Hotel. Spouses who didn’t make the ADCA cruise joined us and there were about 40 people in the group. The wine was flowing, and there was a considerable amount of singing, which Malcolm had started back in the marina. At one point I looked over at Malcolm, who helms Idefix when the owner Marc, who is a pilot, is flying.

Wimer kiss
Photo lifted from Wimer's Facebook page.
I hope it's OK, John!

I noticed Malcolm balancing a spoon on his nose, which reminded me of someone back home. Malcolm is ADCA’s version of my sailing friend John Wimer, owner of the San Francisco Bay J120 race boat Desdemona, notorious for winning the party as well as the race. Both Malcolm and John are very affectionate. Malcolm is always demanding kisses, both cheeks please, and Wimer kisses everyone, not just the girls!

ADCA Yas Cruise 073
Malcolm at least needs some beads, no?

The next morning, Malcolm flashed us as we passed Idefix motoring Floosie. Which is a classic Desdemona move. “We have a Wimer,” I told Mark. “He just needs to work on the wardrobe.”

As the weekend wore on, it reminded us more and more of a calmer version of the Delta Ditch Run, a popular race from Richmond in San Francisco Bay through the Sacramento River Delta to Stockton, California that’s often very windy, with lots of groundings and carnage. What a great race it would be, downwind to Yas Island! There would need to be a motoring allowance, Mark and I decided. The party could be easily organized at any one of the many restaurants in Yas Marina, or at a nearby hotel as Liz did this year.

ADCA Yas Cruise 071
Catching Idefix under power

We left the Yas Marina dock at 8:00 a.m. Saturday, so we could beat the tide, and motored out, enjoying the scenery and wildlife, including a friendly Humpback Dolphin, a Stingray, and a Gazelle grazing in the mangroves.

At 10:00 a.m. we crossed under the Saadiyat bridge and into the Gulf, where we were met by a fleet of classic racing dhows just lowering their sails. The breeze came up, and we close reached up to the Emirates Palace Marina, arriving at 1:00 p.m.

What a perfect weekend, and what a perfect place to go sailing. And what a great group of people, the Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association.

Thanks for reading; two photo albums are below.

Monday, March 11, 2013

An Encounter - at my little beach in Abu Dhabi

Adopted beach
It just might be the littlest beach in Abu Dhabi.

A few days ago, I rode my regular Zayed Grand Mosque bicycle route. It was breezy, due to the shamal, a northwesterly wind that blows over Iraq and across the Gulf, bringing airborne sand, reducing visibility and breathability, and lifting plastic bags and other trash into the air. So I elected to make it a relatively short 45-minute ride.

The workers' standard greeting is not "Hello."
It's "How are you?"
Maybe it was the effect of the shamal, or maybe they are getting used to seeing me out there, but right from the beginning, something was different about that morning. All of the workers tending the landscaping were especially friendly, pausing and waving to me as I passed, calling “How are you?” One even hailed me to come talk to him. “Where are you from?” He attempted to chat me up a bit, and I was friendly but didn't stop long, not wanting to get him into trouble for taking time off from planting petunias. No doubt there are cameras all along the route, because I ride past the Abu Dhabi Police Officers Club, under the Zayed and Maqtaa bridges, and past the Armed Forces Headquarters.

On the way back after the turnaround, I decided to stop at the Maqtaa Bridge, drink some water, and observe the current running under the bridges – where I was swirling around on my SUP in last year’s blog story, Caught at Maqtaa Bridge. As I sat there looking at the little beach before me, I couldn't help but notice the trash. Water bottles, food containers, and plastic bags, all left by workers who come there to relax, eat, and fish. And birds, picking their way around. Much of the trash had been blown up against the fence by the shamal, so that the end of the little beach was acting like a sink, collecting refuse.
Biking 035
Maqtaa Tower and Zayed Bridge. A great place to contemplate life, gazing at old and new.
Well, I thought. I can reach that bag floating in the water; it looks somewhat like a jellyfish and needs to come out. So I got up, fished the bag out of the water and began collecting trash to fill it. It’s such a small beach that it didn't take long for me to collect pretty much all the trash into two bags, which made a huge aesthetic difference. I decided not to venture around the other side of the dilapidated barbed wire fence, even though I could have easily gotten past it. I sat with my bike, sipping my water and contemplating the view.

Apparently I was being watched.

Paddle under bridges 012
A view from the water, on my board. The little beach is on the right.
Just a few moments passed, and then a vehicle pulled up and stopped. The door opened, and a soldier in a black jumpsuit and cap – Emirates Special Forces – got out and came over to me. I thought it best to let him speak first.

He picked up my two bags of trash. “Thank you," he said. "Thank you." I had been planning to take the trash with me on my bicycle to the next debris box along the route. “Where are you from?” he asked. “USA,” I said, “and, you're welcome. And thank you for taking the trash.” I pointed at the beach. “What a mess!” He nodded, then shook his head. What can they do? He thanked me again and drove off, circling around and honking and waving as he passed by again.

As I got on my bike to ride home, I felt great. A few moments later, I saw something I had never seen before – about a hundred guys exercising on steps. I was in such a good mood that I waved and called out the Arabic greeting, “Salaam alaikum!” (Peace to you.) And they called back, with a chorus of “Alaikum salaam!” And there was a lot of surprised laughter.

It felt good to tell the soldier that I’m American, and I think my little cleanup gesture made a good impression on him. It helps to be on good terms when you cruise their neighborhood regularly. So I've decided to adopt that little beach, and every time I ride there, I'll check for trash to pick up. I’m doing it for myself, because I miss working in my yard in Nevada, and for the birds and the fish. And I’m doing it so that I can feel like I’m giving something, however small, back to Abu Dhabi.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Boating in the Musandam with Abdul Hameed Alawahdi and Friends

Approaching Telegraph Island
Abdul Hameed, left, is a natural-born host and organizer.

Last year, camping with Abdul Hameed was the highlight of the season, and has remained the all-time most popular blog story. Unfortunately, this year Abdul couldn’t set up the camp because he was unable to borrow Salim, his Bangladeshi man Friday, from the family farm for the season. Salim learned how to cook at camp, and now he cooks at the farm. Without Salim to watch over camp during the week, everything could disappear. And it isn’t easy to hire someone for only a few months, even for the well-connected Abdul.

So instead, Abdul Hameed organized a boating trip in the Musandam with Khasab Travel & Tours.

Musandam3 094
The Norway of Arabia
Musandam is in the northern tip of the Arabian peninsula, jutting out into the Straits of Hormuz. This Omani exclave, geographically separated from the rest of Oman by UAE borders, shares control of the Strait of Hormuz with Iran. It’s also a tourist destination because of its rugged beauty and opportunities for fishing, diving and dolphin watching. It’s a fantastically remote and peaceful place. You would never know that you were in one of the strategic hot spots on the planet.
The Musandam has Iran as its neighbor to the north, across the Strait of Hormuz

 Our boating trip began in the town of Khasab, which dates to the beginning of the 17th century at the height of the Portuguese naval presence. To get there, we left Abu Dhabi on Friday morning, driving northeast through Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah (RAK,) where we rendezvoused with Abdul, his cousins and the other Arab guys from Mark’s work who were coming on the trip. We had Tom riding with us. Dana and Deb were in Dana’s car along with Dana’s son Jared and Jared’s girlfriend Hollie, who were visiting from Pasadena, California and had spent the previous two days in Dubai. Our boat would leave on Friday evening and return 24 hours later, on Saturday.

Americans in the Arab world.
The American guests: Hollie, Jared, Deb, Dana, Anne, Mark, and Tom

But first, we made a stop at the Barracuda liquor store, which is located in a run-down looking resort of the same name in the emirate of Um Al Quwain, between Dubai and RAK. Barracuda is quite famous with expats for being the best place to buy alcohol, even if you live in Abu Dhabi, which is hours away. While there are small liquor stores scattered around – we have a High Spirits near our apartment compound – it’s always hit-or-miss depending on what they have in stock. And there is absolutely no packaged alcohol sold in the hypermarkets or anywhere but a liquor store. Just like pork, you have to go someplace special. Although I must admit that it’s easier to get booze than pork.

We bought some of these pre-mixed cocktails
which come in very handy on road trips.

Barracuda has a wide selection of everything. Two rooms of wines from around the world, pretty good selection of beers, and a great selection of vodkas, high quality scotches, the best tequilas – you get the idea. And it’s all beautifully displayed. For me, it’s fun just to get to see the displays, many of which are custom-made, or “bespoke” as they call it here, and really deserve their own blog photo story.

We picked up a few bottles of this and that, a couple cases of beer, sampled some cheeses at the gourmet store, and were on our way again to meet Abdul.

After lunch at a mall food court, we formed a car caravan and headed up along the rugged RAK coastline to the Oman border crossing near Shams. Border crossings are always a crap shoot for expats. With Abdul and the other Emirati nationals patiently waiting, we went inside and found ourselves delayed because they had run out of the forms they require us to fill out. Um, hello, this is the only thing they do here! You would think they could just ask us for the information and type it into the computer but … oh well, the forms finally arrived, we paid our exit fees, got passport stamps, and we were almost through the gauntlet. One more check point, where the Omani border guards looked in the back of our vehicle. We briefly wondered if they would want to know what was inside the telltale opaque bags from Barracuda, but apparently that wasn’t what they were checking for. Sweet relief.

The boat dock is a colorful scene.
Khasab Travel & Tours is
a large operation with many boats

We wound our way along the coastline to Khasab, pulling into the parking lot at about 4:30 p.m. just as our boat was arriving in port and unloading a group of passengers. In no time, they had hauled all of our belongings across several day trip boats to our modified three-level dhow, and we were motoring out.

The guys were unwinding from the big IDEX military expo.
What would a boat be
without cushions and Persian rugs?

Meanwhile, we wasted no time getting relaxed. There were several coolers of ice for the beverages, and Abdul had brought several bags of snacks. The guys were still unwinding from a very busy week at the IDEX International Defence Exhibition and Conference, which Mark has said he will write a guest blog about but I'll believe it when I see it, inshallah. They were ready to kick back.

Our cabin, with its own bathroom.
The private bathroom was very nice to have.

The boat had eight cabins containing two bunks each, and private “heads” – bathrooms, which were equipped with showers. We had three couples on board, and the rest were “bachelors” – which is what we in the U.S. sometimes call men who are traveling “stag.”

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Our host and Arab friends

We learned way back when we camped with Abdul last year, and it’s been reinforced in many ways since then, that Arab husbands and wives do many activities separately. American women usually see this leaving the wives behind as unacceptable, but it’s totally normal for them. The fact is, Arab men spend time with their families. And they also do a lot of the grocery shopping.

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Limestone layers

If you expect a coastline with at least some vegetation, it will be a visual shock to contemplate the barren limestone of the Musandam peninsula. This place, called “The Norway of Arabia” by the tourism industry, is the definition of stark beauty. We motored out, and as we gazed at the rugged cliffs with their undulating layers, uplifted and bent by the collision of the Asian and Indian tectonic plates, Abdul pointed and said, “There are jinn there.”

Ah, jinn! I’ve been reading up on them, and I am fascinated with their prominence in the Arab culture, particularly in the mountain villages in Oman and the UAE, and how they have transitioned into American popular culture. According to Wikipedia:

The jinn, or genies, are spirits mentioned in the Qurʾān and Islamic theology who inhabit an unseen world in dimensions beyond the visible universe of humans. Together, the jinn, humans and angels make up the three sentient creations of God. The Qurʾan mentions that the jinn are made of a smokeless and "scorching fire" and they have the physical property of weight. Similar to humans, jinn have free will allowing them to do as they choose (such as follow any religion). They are usually invisible to humans, and humans do not appear clearly to them. Jinn have the power to travel large distances at extreme speeds and are thought to live in remote areas, mountains, seas, trees, and the air, in their own communities. Like humans, jinn will also be judged on the Day of Judgment and will be sent to Paradise or Hell according to their deeds.

With Cindy and Mohammed at
Al Bidya mosque near their home
I mentioned that jinn are in the book I’m writing about my American friend Cindy Davis who married her Emirati husband Mohammed Ali Alhammadi in 1982 at age twenty. Abdul knows them well. Cindy once had trouble with a jinn in the house, or some kind of black magic.

“She married a jinn,” Abdul said. What!? Mohammed Ali? A jinn? “What makes you say that?” I asked. “Bad things happen and Mohammed is there,” Abdul replied. I don’t know, because jinn are not human and human are not jinn. Perhaps Mohammed is a jinx! I’ll have to ask Cindy what she thinks of this comment.

Omani sunset.
Arabian sunset

As we watched the sun sink, the little fishing pangas that were dotting the sea began to race back toward their villages. We were anchored far away from but within sight of the Omani navy base.

The moon, which was a day shy of full and visible all afternoon in the sky, brightened. There was a big discussion about why the moon appears white with grey spots. What color is it, really? People had theories, but the group never could agree.

This fishing is hard work!
Dana had an interesting fishing technique.

Then, we fished in the dark. Abdul had brought a few kilos of fresh squid, sliced and ready to go. Personally, I would have been happy to just dip the squid in some batter, fry it up, and enjoy it as calamari fritti. It was that fresh.

Mark couldn't seem to catch a fish bigger than his hand.
Mark's first fish.

Using thick nylon fishing line on large spools, we each baited a couple of hooks and dropped them to sit on the bottom. Pretty soon people started pulling in fish.

Tom's fish.
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Dana caught one of the first fish.

Dinner buffet.
Abdul was going to bring more food, to be sure we didn't
run out. Fortunately, the tour company convinced him
not to do it, saying "We have never run out of food!"

We decided to have dinner at 9:30 p.m. and right on time, a buffet spread came out with all of my Arab favorites. Hummus, mutabal (eggplant dip), garlicky yogurt dip, Greek and fattoush salads, rice, chicken, and delicious barbecued fish – not the fish we caught, but larger ones that had been marinating since we came aboard.

Nobody slept inside the cabins.
Some people got up early to fish while others slept.

We fished more after dinner, there was some talk of card games, but people started dropping off to sleep. In the end, nobody slept in any of the cabins. It was just too wonderful not to sleep out under the moon and stars. Despite the full moon, Mark and I spotted Orion and the Big Dipper although he insisted they were in the wrong place.

The instant Nescafe in little packets tastes really good on a boat. 

I woke up to see the sky getting light as the sun lingered behind the crags. I love seeing the sunrise on a boat even more than I love the sunset. There is a very practical reason for this. I tend to get seasick on overnight races if I see the sun go down and stay on deck until after it’s dark. I lose the horizon, and I lose my equilibrium.

The bow was a good seat for fishing.

But when the sun comes up, and I can see the horizon, all is well including me. Plus, I just feel such peace and promise in the rising sun.

The Omani Navy came over to greet us in the morning.
The boat was equipped with at TV.
That's the Omani Navy outside.

A boat came over from the naval base and lurked near us, so we weighed anchor and motored out. We then drifted offshore and fished more. I finally caught a few of the little pink fish that Mark had been catching which Abdul called Sultan Ibrahim.

The fish were down so deep that when they came up, their eyes and tongues  popped out.
Mark mimics the way
the fish's tongue hangs out.

Mark threw his first one back, but Abdul said “No, no! it is good to eat. The smaller the better.” I’ve since looked them up and found them in the food blog of an American wife called Emiratican Kitchen which will now be my go-to source for information about how to cook the local foods. Sultan Ibrahim, when they are small, seasoned and deep fried, taste like shrimp.

Breakfast: eggs three ways, fresh fruit and veggies ... heavenly.

Breakfast was served. There were eggs three ways – scrambled, cheese omelet, and boiled. Also, fresh fruit – the watermelon and cantaloupes you get here are wonderful. And with every meal, there is delicious yogurt and Arabic bread.

Approaching Telegraph Island
Approaching Telegraph Island

Next we headed into the Elphinstone Inlet, home of the famous Telegraph Island – which I had never heard of but Mark and the other guys knew about. According to Wikipedia:

In the 19th century, it was the location of a British repeater station used to boost telegraphic messages along the Persian Gulf submarine cable, which was part of the London to Karachi telegraphic cable. It was not an easy posting for the operators, with the severe summer heat and hostility of local tribes making life extremely uncomfortable. Because of this, the island is, according to some travel agents and journalists, where the expression "go round the bend" comes from, a reference to the heat making British officers desperate to return to civilization, which meant a voyage around the bend in the Strait of Hormuz back to India.

Today, Telegraph Island is an eerie reminder of the British Empire. Abandoned in the mid-1870s, the island has remained deserted and only the crumbling ruins of the repeater station and the operators' quarters can be seen. As tourism has grown in the Gulf region, so the island is regularly visited by dhows carrying tourists to view the ruins and to fish and snorkel in the waters around it. However, the intense heat (particularly in the summer months) endures.

Our boat stayed in the western Musandam, but around the bend from Khasab, about 60 miles south of the tip, is the town of Dibba. Dibba’s natural harbor is another popular place to catch a boat tour up the eastern Musandam, and there are several 5-star resort and spa hotels along the coast as well.
Musandam boat tour Google Earth
The tip of the Musandam Peninsula
Touring the Elphinstone Inlet on the SUP with Hollie
All that yoga paid off.

We anchored at Telegraph Island, and everyone got ready to swim. I inflated my ULI stand-up paddleboard and took a little cruise to the shore. The snorkeling didn’t look that good, which Mark confirmed later. He had brought his scuba equipment, including two tanks that we rented in Abu Dhabi, but he didn’t use them. I gave Hollie a little quick instruction on the SUP, and she turned out to be a natural, which I suspected she would be after she told me how much yoga she does.

Touring the Elphinstone Inlet on the SUP with Hollie

Later, Hollie and I paddled across the inlet to explore the shoreline.
Touring the Elphinstone Inlet on the SUP with Hollie
The brown dhows are for day excursions. Ours was the white one.

I must admit that I didn’t walk on the Telegraph Island – I had forgotten to wear shoes on the board and when I stepped onto land after giving the SUP to Hollie, I could feel the coral slicing my feet, so I swam back to the boat. Warning: be sure to wear shoes when you are walking on rocks and coral anywhere in the Middle East! Tom’s wife Lucy (who in case you are wondering is back in the USA taking care of the two elderly mothers, hers and Tom’s) got a cut bad enough to need several stitches last year just on a tiny piece of coral that was in the sand in the Abu Dhabi mangroves.
The dolphins swam with the boats, and the babies stayed right besie their mothers.The dolphins swam with the boats, and the babies stayed right besie their mothers.

Next was lunch which was another huge and delicious spread, and then dolphin watching. The Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin is the most common cetacean in the Gulf. They are slightly narrower and lighter in color than other Bottlenose and are very social, swimming over to the boats and leaping out of the water. We often see the very social Bottlenose when we’re out sailing in the waters off of Abu Dhabi, where they swim around and play with Unwind. We also see the shyer, less common  Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin. I believe the dolphins we saw that day were Pacific Humpbacks. Although they did swim alongside the boats a bit, they did not put on the porpoise show that we would expect from Bottlenose, and they had the humps and elongated fins. The Pacific Humpback and even more rare Finless Dolphins are considered endangered.
After the dolphin watching, we cruised around the shoreline, napped, and listened to Tom’s eclectic iPod mix while trying to finish up the chilled beverages in the coolers.

Another remote fishing village.
Isolated little fishing towns dotted the coast.

I was fascinated by the remote fishing villages, where ruins of mud and stone buildings crumble alongside newer structures, and I wonder if they have been there for centuries. The only way to get there is by boat. Do families live there, or just “bachelor” fishermen, while their wives and children live in town? Mark and I were curious about what looked like power or telephone lines strung on poles along the shoreline. How and why did they come to be there?

At 5:00 p.m. we pulled back into the harbor at Khasab, and it was over all too soon. But I heard a rumor that Abdul is already planning another trip in April, for big game fish. Maybe we'll go "round the bend!"

Watch for the next post, in which we spend a night at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Khasab, have lunch at Abdul's home in Dubai, and meet his Moroccan wife and children.

Thanks for reading, and try not to step on any jinn..