ABU DHABI DIARY (5): DOLPHINS & GEOCACHING

With Jo back in the UK last weekend to attend her parents’ golden wedding anniversary party, the kids and I were left here to entertain ourselves.

The weekend started quietly with a trip to the cinema to see “A Dolphin’s Tale 2”. Archie and Flossie really enjoyed the first film, so were really looking forward to seeing the follow up. They enjoyed this one just as much, I thought it was a little slow to get going but reached a suitably cheesy, heart warming finale. We went to see it at the local cinema, which isn’t as glitzy as those in the larger malls, but even so I was surprised at how quiet it was given that it was the opening weekend. Apart from us there were only three other people in there, although (grumpy old man rant coming up) they made enough noise to make it feel that the room was completely full (and of course decided to sit right in front of us despite having the whole room to choose from).

Things livened up on Saturday. We (well, I, the kids didn’t have much choice in the matter) decided that we should go on a caching expedition in the desert, mainly to scout out some locations for when Nanna and Grandpa visit in a few weeks time.

For those not familiar with it geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices (you can get an app for most smartphones these days). Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. You can find more information here.

Geocaching seems to be fairly popular in the UAE from what I can tell. There are almost 500 caches within 100 miles of our house, which should keep us busy for some time, and it was featured in one of the newspapers just a few months ago.

One of the things we used to like about caching in the UK was that it took us to places we probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise. And it certainly did the same this weekend. I decided we would do a series dotted along a minor road running alongside the main highway between here and Al Ain (which is about an hour away). Some of them were right by the road, others were about a mile or so into the desert but on tracks that meant we didn’t need to go fully off road.

The landscape we were in – lots of sand, the odd group of trees and irrigation stations every few miles – meant that there weren’t many places to hide big caches so most of them were small, and therefore didn’t contain anything for Archie and Flossie to swap in and out. Despite that they enjoyed being out in the desert, and stopping for a picnic in the middle of nowhere (sat in the car, it is still very warm here).

Along the way we saw a few illustrations of what daily life is like out of the main cities. We passed a couple of groups of men crouched round their Eid sacrifices about to enjoy their feast, we saw lots of camels, and we saw other things that made us stop and wonder what the story was behind them (see photographs below).

A friendly camel

A friendly camel

Did this belong to cachers who got lost in the desert?

Did this belong to cachers who got lost in the desert?

Where did these once ornate gates lead to?

Where did these once ornate gates lead to?

On the way home we made a detour to do one final cache that had caught my eye when I was researching last week. Near to the cycle track at Al Wathba there is a large man made mound towering above the surrounding landscape which is pretty flat. The mound generally has lorries trundling up and down it, so I presume is some kind of quarry (although why it would be sticking up so far out of the ground I’m not so sure). Anyway I noticed that there was a cache near the mound, or “Mount Abu Dhabi” as the people who hid the cache had decided to call it, so I decided that this was one that I needed to do.

"Mount Abu Dhabi"

“Mount Abu Dhabi”

When I read the description of the cache I realised that it is not on the mountain itself, but is actually about a mile and a half away from it in the depths of the “Sabkha”, or salt flats, at a ground water assessment well. I then read that previous cachers had found it useful to go to the top of the mountain, from where you can make out the best route to take across the salt flats to get to the cache location, so I decided that we needed to do the same.

Thankfully there were no lorries trundling up and down that day so up we went, in ever decreasing circles on the dirt track, until we finally reached the top. We had a fantastic view of the salt flats going on for miles and miles from up there. although it was a little hazy. However the previous cachers had been correct you could see the tiny dot of the ground water assessment well in the distance, with a clearly marked track leading straight to it.

IMG_3370

The Sabkha

Down we went, and headed out into the salt flats. The ground was pretty flat and the track clearly visible so we were able to move quickly and soon got to where we needed to be. It was an incredibly desolate spot, you really did feel as though you were in the middle of nowhere. The temperature was in the mid 30s, and you got a real sense of what it would be like in the height of summer.

The middle of nowhere

The middle of nowhere

Disappointingly, after all of that I couldn’t find the cache, despite spending 20 minutes looking. I’m sure it was there but my “cacher’s eye” wasn’t working properly. Eventually we gave up and headed back to civilisation – actually we drove backwards and forwards to the main road three times because the kids were enjoying driving fast on the sand (and wanted a go at driving themselves).

Can you see the cache? I couldn't........

Can you see the cache? I couldn’t……..

The rest of the weekend has been quiet compared to that, so I won’t bore you any longer. We are all looking forward to seeing mummy tomorrow, and I am looking forward to going back to work for a rest. However I am already planning our next caching expedition. Further into the desert next time I reckon……..

Thanks for reading.

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