Sunday, February 04, 2007

Liwa overnight

A small group of us went camping last weekend. Four cars and six people followed and old Desert Challenge special stage route for about 160km on a mixture of sand tracks and high dunes east of the Hmeem Road near the eastern end of the Liwa crescent. After stopping near Abu Dhabi airport to fill our tanks to the brim at the last petrol station before Liwa, we stopped along the Hmeem road to scavenge some firewood that had been kindly deposited on the roadside by a fly-tipper. Onward south, past the Rainbow Sheikh's oversized Land Rover, we eventually turned left on to a gatch track and spent about 40km having our fillings vibrated from our teeth.

It was then time to leave the track and hit sand. I had the opportunity to use my tyre deflators for the first time. What splended devices these are. Screw one on to each valve and it lets the air out before snapping shut at exactly the pre-set 15psi. Deflators aren't cheap, but mine had the advantage of being dispensed through the largesse of Mr S. Claus last December. And it beats the pants off kneeling at each tyre in turn, holding the valve core in and repeatedly checking the pressure.

Off we set, with Gadget Boy leading and the Grumpy Goat bringing up the rear. The dunes started off low and undulating with a couple of surprise lumps and dents. At one point Gadget Boy got airborne and came down with a spine-compressing jolt. No permanent harm done, but it served as a reminder that when the sun is high in the sky the lack of shadows and contrast can make spotting holes in the sand a little tricky.

We had a couple of minor crestings too. Don't stop exactly on the crest of a slip-face with all four wheels in the air! Both were easily recovered with a second car and a tow-rope.

It soon became obvious, as the route developed into higher dunes, that we weren't going to complete the whole planned route, so as 5pm approached we started to look for a sheltered bowl in which to camp. I erected the tent behind the GoatMobile on a flat piece of sand, at which point the wind changed direction through 180 degrees and spent the evening trying to demolish the tent. I'm pleased to note that the cheapo dome tend purchased two years ago from Ace Hardware withstood the attempts of the wind to get it airborne. The wind eventually gave up at around 10pm.

Air mattresses are wonderful things when seeking comfort in a tent. So are duck-down comforters, and I don't care how bulky these are to transport. I think it was Baden-Powell, inventor of the Scout movement, who said something about how any fool could be uncomfortable when camping. Presumable B-P knew a thing or two about life under canvas.

I hear that it rained in Dubai and Sharjah last Friday night. No such misfortune in Liwa, which is probably just as well. I suspect the Ace Hardware budget camping kit - tent and two sleeping bags for Dh50, if I remember rightly - would not stand up to substantial rainfall.

The following morning, and tracks on the sand indicated that we'd been visited overnight by many wee beasties. Lizards, I think. As we had a leisurely breakfast and packed away, we were eyed beadily by a crow, presumably awaiting our departure so it could pick through our trash. The bird was due for some disappointment. Apart from the ash remains of the campfire, we took everything away.

The morning's entertainment became the early afternoon's repair project after Gadget Boy got his Patrol mired to the floor pan in soft sand. Diff-locks failed to shift the car, as did sand ladders, but the tow rope once again proved its worth. But the car wouldn't steer. The steering damper had filled with sand, preventing all steering. There was a certain amount of rummaging underneath with spanners and molegrips to remove the damper and empty the sand out before we were once again on our way.

About 130km of off-road driving is not good for decent environmentally-friendly fuel consumption, and the Patrols with tiny fuel tanks were by now getting a little low. We had some 30km of dunes and sand tracks to go plus about 25km on asphalt to the nearest petrol station. Those of us with long-range tanks still had plenty of fuel, and I thing someone had a hosepipe and jerry-can in case of emergency.

It was around this point when we started to spot gazelles. Lots of gazelles. Herds. One individual actually ran parallel to me while I followed a sand track, and I can report that the animal was running in excess of 55kph before cutting across in front of me and diving under a barbed-wire fence. The gazelles must have been semi domesticated; I'm sure that we'd not have seen wild ones at all.

The last 30km of off-road consisted of uninspiring undulating sand tracks. These were surprisingly difficult going, requiring lots of right hoof and low gears. Still, we successfully emerged on to asphalt and re-inflated our tyres before heading off for petrol. No-one actually ran out, although the short wheelbase Patrol was on its last half-gallon. About seven miles of reserve is a little tight.

The petrol pump attendant cleverly didn't tell me that his credit card machine was broken and I'd have to pay cash until after he'd finished pumping gas. Luckily I had just enough cash money to cover the cost. What is wrong with advising the customer that it's Cash Only before dispensing fuel is something I don't really understand.

The journey back to Dubai and the Northern Emirates was a long slow cruise along the Liwa crescent, looking at the hugh acres of arable land, and a brief stop for refreshments at the ADNOC Oasis in Arrada (where they do accept credit cards), before heading north through Madinat Zayed to the coast road and heading for home, shower and an early night.


Elagante said...

man you can write

Simon said...

GG: sounds brilliant. I have plans for a Liwa visit and your post has rekindled the yearning.
Any pics coming?


nzm said...


Next time, take us please!

(And Simon too, so he can cook for us! LOL!)

nzm said...

Oh jeez, we better not leave Keefie and MamaDuck out either!

Keefieboy said...

Yeah right!

Anonymous said...

My comment may be a bit dated, but Grumpy can surely weild a pen at least as well he does the 4-wd stick.

Captivating narration.


MamaDuck said...

Fascinating. Oooh yes, you describe it so well. And the gazelles! You can be my desert guide any time!

ourtariq said...


Is camping allowed every where or do we need a permit for camping?


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