UAE road trips -Part 4 – Zipline and Hatta

For my last road trip in the UAE, I only had two days off, so it had to be quick.

I decided to return to Jebel Jais since they had now opened the longest zip-line in the world, apparently certified by the Guinness World Records. It sounded pretty nice, so I rented a car again and headed North.

My GPS was confused though and brought me back to Sha’am. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t going in the right direction, actually as soon as I left RAK I knew it, but didn’t trust my instincts. And of course, it was right. after calling the zipine to let them know it’d be quite late, I turned around and followed the actual way to the mountain.

All geared up and ready to go!

The Toroverde zipline is a neat experience. However, it felt like skydiving took away my adrenaline rush. I was quite relaxed for the entire process, especially compared to the people whose group I joined. The zipline measures 2.83km, which means you have time to enjoy the ride. It goes fast, but like most things speed related, the heavier you are the faster you’ll go.

Jebel Jais zipline launching platform

They start up by gearing you up with the harness and a backpack to carry the pulleys you’ll need for the second half. You then hop on a minibus for a few minutes to reach the platform. They use superman style harnesses which makes you feel very secure. Not quite what I was hoping for!

Getting onto the platform does give you a few butterflies in your stomach as you have to put your hands to the edge of the platform, and do a handstand-ish while they secure your harness. They then add some weights to ensure you reach the other end (they added about 70kg for me and I barely made it).

It’s almost time. They crank up the lines and get your hands in your back.

Ready?

3, 2, 1 and go!

You are flying!

Almost. You go on for a few minutes and then reach the middle platform, they change your harness type, and now you are sitting to head back to were you started. It gets very windy of course, and it was still pretty cool to get to see the mountains from a different point of view. They are gorgeous. So rugged.

I absolutely loved driving up and down the mountain road and I think it’s funny that the older I get the more willing I am to take risks in all aspects of my life.

Hatta

I drove to Hatta on my second day off and it was beautiful. I had been told the area was very different and quite beautiful, and it was true. Hatta is located in the Hajar moutains.

Hatta dam

Hatta dam is very pretty. A big lake with rocky mountains around it. People can rent kayaks and when I was there a group set off and they were being quite loud. It really disturbed the peace and quiet I was looking for.

Hatta dam from the other side

I had read about Hatta Lake being just on the other side of the mountain so I went there instead. It was a very similar scenery but I was alone to enjoy it. I really enjoyed being alone and having no other humans around. I think that’s because I worked and live with people so it easily became too much for me and I actually needed quiet time to recharge my batteries.

Hatta lake

After the dam and the lake, I explored Hatta Fort and the heritage village, the oldest preserved heritage village in the UAE. It was interesting to walk around and be free to open the doors to discover the history of this place at my own pace. I found it also very interesting to see the houses and be able to compare them to what I had read in the Girl who fell to the Earth.

Hatta Fort and Heritage Village

Returning to my all-time favourite spot in the UAE, Jebel Jais

When I had decided I would leave Dubai, I knew I needed to return one last time to Jebel Jais. It’s quite funny how every single time I went there, I was originally supposed to go with the guy I was seeing or wanted to be seeing more of at that time. And every single time, I ended up going alone. I guess karma had different plans for me!

Jebel Jais, my favourite road in the UAE

This time around, I didn’t plan things too well. It wasn’t as pleasant of a road trip I thought it would be as I was stuck in traffic for most of it and when I got started on the road up the hill, I realized I didn’t have much fuel left. But at least when I finally got up there, there was barely anyone and if it wasn’t for the generator, it would have been really quiet!

Watching the sunset was amazing and relaxing, once I found a quiet spot where some rocks were blocking the generator sound.

My favourite spot up Jebel Jais

Driving back was quite the experience though. I was quite zen until I got back into the car and remembered how very little fuel I had left when the fuel light went on. I drove down keeping an eye out for the curves, and the fuel gauge. Once I finally made it out of the mountain area, after what felt like an eternity, I went to get some fuel. But RAK still being under construction seemingly everywhere it was rather challenging. They mark roads as closed but you can still use them. Go figure. In the end I found some fuel and felt a lot better knowing I wouldn’t be stranded!

Even on my way to go to Jebel Jais, I had to go through a blocked road. I was rather dubious that I was supposed to head that way, but the guy working on the construction site gestured that it was indeed the way. This happened many times, actually every time I drove in that area. It’s rather challenging to find my way in Ras Al Khaimah, but the good thing is I’m not really stressed anymore when driving there, or anywhere for that matter!

Nevertheless, even with all the new developments and the fact that it most likely will never be the quiet place it once was (hearing people scream for their lives as they zipline through is not what I call relaxing!) it was my last must needed nature retreat from the sometimes intense life in Dubai.

Did you miss my other road trips?

Part 1: Fujairah and Jebel Hafeet

Part 2: Ras Al Khaimah, Leopard Canyon and my all time favourite, Jebel Jais

Part 3: Liwa, the biggest sand dunes of the UAE, and getting my rental car stuck in the sand.

UAE road trips – part 3 – Sand dunes of Liwa

I did a quite a few road trips during my year in Dubai, and it seemed that I still didn’t have quite enough of sand and desert yet! I had another couple of days off and I decided that before the weather would get unbearably hot, it would be a good idea to actually go spend some time in the desert.

At that point, I had already been on a few road trips and wanted to go somewhere new. I looked at the map of the UAE, and decided that the big mostly empty area towards the border with Saudi Arabia would do. It would definitely have enough sand and desert for my liking!

Local wildlife

There was a place called Liwa, an oasis lost in the middle of the desert. It sounded perfect. Not only that but it was also home to the largest sand dune of the UAE. That should definitely involve enough sand!

I picked up the little rental car as soon as the office opened, grabbed some coffee and headed towards Abu Dhabi. The speed limit is 140 in this area and it sure drives really well at that speed. The roads were not too busy probably because it was a Friday morning. (Friday is the beginning of the weekend in the UAE)

I decided not to go see the Mosque as I didn’t want to risk getting stuck… I was smarter when I started the trip

The road started to be pretty from the junction towards Madina Zayed. The town itself was an oasis and was green and lush. I felt like I had just started driving so I unfortunately didn’t stop for photos.

Peaceful Liwa

I arrived in Liwa and checked-in in early afternoon. It was a bit warm to go explore the sand dunes, so I enjoyed my balcony for a few hours.

Moreab Dune is supposed to be the biggest dune in the UAE and one of the biggest in the world. It is 300m tall and has an incline of 50 degrees, so it looks a more like a wall of sand than a dune. I had originally thought of walking up the sand dune, but it was very busy and noisy with pickups and 4×4. It was quite entertaining to watch, but once again, not quite the peaceful escape I wanted.

Sand dunes everywhere

I decided to go back to a different dune so I could enjoy it on my own. A bit more anyway. I parked the car on the side of the road and started walking up the dune. It was beautiful. As soon as I reached the top, I could hear a family not too far from me, somewhere else in the dunes, so I moved to a different area. I sat there and took the views and quietude in. It was perfect.

I made a little video of a guy coming to play in the dunes with his pick-up truck. Little did I know that he would offer to take me up the dunes and that I would spend the rest of the day with him. When Khaled offered to join, I wasn’t too sure but I thought: fuck it, I’ve got nothing to lose! Plus he was kind of cute.

I went down my dune while he removed some air from his tires and we went up. He said he was going to help another guy who was clearly stuck but when we got there, another jeep was already helping him out.

So we kept going towards Moreab and next thing I knew we were on the edge of it! I squealed as we went down. It was so much fun! When we reached the bottom, we stopped to put some more air back in the tires. He shared his coffee with me and we went back up and down one more time.

On top of Moreab Dune, just about to come down

After all those emotion and fun times, we drove to the other side and sat in the sand for a while sharing stories about our lives. He shared more of his Arabic coffee and dates. Eventually, as the sun was gone and it was getting cold, I asked him if he could bring me back to my car. I thought he would ask for money at some point but he didn’t. He was just happy to have some company to play in the sand and have interesting conversation with. We exchanged phone numbers and I returned to the hotel.

Moreab dune, proudly standing 300m tall.

I was so relaxed after the desert. It felt like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders. All my worries stayed in the desert, exactly like Khaled had told me when he explained why he loved the desert so much.

Liwa sunrise

The next morning, I woke up early enough to see the sunrise and it was beautiful. It was so quiet and I could hear the birds chirping. It was simply perfect. I think I could have stay there easily for a few days. It was peaceful and quiet and had a soothing effect on my soul. I was truly recharging my batteries.

The UAE was a lot prettier than I expected. As long as one leaves Dubai, there’s actually a lot to discover. And I loved it, it is what made staying longer bearable as I kept exploring the surrounding nature regularly.

Khaled’s ride

The desert has a fascinating effect on me and it had been the same in Jordan. It’s no wonder some of the bedouins can’t leave it. It inhabits you and takes over in the sweetest and calmest way. It almost made me want to build myself a camp in the desert and not come back to civilization, at least not regularly!

More sand dunes

The plan for my second day was to drive around some more and see what was in this area of the country.

Dhafeer Fort, Liwa

Once I had packed everything, I left the hotel to have a look at Dhafeer Fort. It is a small fort with no signs, no explanation or anyone. I toured it anyway. The walls of these forts are quite high and it’s unfortunately hard to see the view on the other side.

The ladder up one of the towers of Mezairah Fort

My second stop of the day was the interesting Mezairah Fort. It’s a 3 tower fort and I went up in two of the towers. Both forts are now housing mostly pigeons but it was still very interesting to see. It’s a good thing I had a visited another fort with a guide during a previous road trip as I could somewhat guess the use of each room.

I drove the very scenic road towards Hamim, stopping at a staff accommodation compound on top of a hill. The view was beautiful over the oasis and date plantation. My plan was to go see Qasr Al Sarab as I was told it was a superb hotel, but they had special guests that day and the security guard wouldn’t let anyone in who didn’t have a booking or a restaurant reservation. I was quite disappointed.

I kept driving towards Hamim but I wasn’t quite ready to go back to Dubai yet so I turned around and went towards Shah. It’s mostly camps and oil and gas industries in that area, but at one point there was a roundabout and I could access the other side of the fence. There was a big empty area, and at the back, lovely red sand dunes.

Lovely sand dunes near Shah

I parked the car and climbed up. It was hot since it was already 12 pm. The sand was very hot too and when I wasn’t climbing I had to put my sandals back on not to burn the sole of my feet. I explored the dunes, being careful to always see the parking lot or my tracks so I wouldn’t get lost! I sat in a dune after making a sand angel of course.

Sand, sand and more sand!

When I was warm and relaxed enough, I came running down the sand dunes back to the car. I had decided to go towards the border with Saudi, without crossing of course, and decided to do a u-turn in one shot instead of the smarter decision of staying on the more solid sand. It took half a second and the left tire was stuck in soft sand. I needed some traction aid which I obviously didn’t have.

In that moment, after trying to get unstuck and fully realizing I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own, I wanted to cry.

Tears of rage.

I was no longer my zen self.

Luckily there was a business straight across the roundabout. It was still a few minutes walk but since I could see pick up trucks, I figured they could possibly help me out. I swallowed my pride and walked there. After trying to call the security office and hear the phone ringing inside the empty building, someone finally walked out of a different building. He didn’t really know or understand what I needed but pointed me to some guys a bit further away saying they could help.

Beautiful road near Liwa

They were taking a break and were going to leave a few minutes later to go change a tire so my timing was pretty good. I got in the truck with them, and after the tire change, they came to my car and got it out within minutes. They all insisted I should stay for lunch but I was still so angry at myself, all I wanted to do was to head back home. I thanked them profusely and went on my way.

About 20 minutes later, one of the guy called me to make sure everything was okay. It was very sweet of them. After this adventure, I headed back pretty much straight to Dubai, watching the beautiful dunes turn to white sand before bringing the car back. I was quite happy the car dealer didn’t look underneath the car as he might have noticed it was a bit sandier than usual!

Did you miss my other road trips in the United Arab Emirates?

Part 1: Fujairah and Jebel Hafeet

Part 2: Ras Al Khaimah, Leopard Canyon and my all time favourite, Jebel Jais

Part 4: Hatta and one last visit to Jebel Jais

UAE road tips – Part 2 – Ras Al Khaimah, Leopard Canyon and Jebel Jais

About 10 days after my first road trip, I needed another fix. I had another 4 days off in a row. It was the perfect opportunity to keep exploring the UAE. I was no longer housesitting, so I rented a car and went on my way.

The first day was spent jumping at the desert campus followed by dinner at a friend. I wasn’t too sure if it was worth going to RAK right after, but I knew it would give me a full day there. If I would have gone back home to sleep, I would most likely have started my day much later.

After dinner, I dropped a friend at one of the Metro station and headed towards Ras Al Khaimah. I didn’t see much of the road as it was night time, but it also allowed me to avoid the terrible traffic to Sharjah.

A few colleagues live in Sharjah and work in Dubai, and even though it’s only about 50km, it sometimes takes them about 2 hours to get from home to work, and 2 more hours from work back home. I honestly never understood why they would choose to put themselves through that every day. Thankfully, that evening, there was barely anybody on the road. So after slightly over one hour of driving I checked-in the Al-Nakheel hotel.

On my way in, I could see people chilling and having fires on the sand dunes by the highway. I almost stopped and joined people as it looked like everyone was having a great time. But I didn’t. I wasn’t too sure it would be a good idea to stop and ask random people if I could join them!

Exploring the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah

I had originally planned on going hiking for my first day in Ras Al Khaimah, but I was slow to get ready and since I had not picked a hike beforehand, by the time I was actually ready to leave it was way too late to start a long hike. So instead, I drove around the Emirate and stopped whenever I felt like it.

Al Jazirah Al Hamra abandoned village

I first headed towards Al Jazirah, Al Hamra but for some reason couldn’t find the right road. I drove by the Hilton and the nearby coffee shop. I obviously needed a bit of cafeine to help me out, so I picked up a coffee and then easily found my way and explored the abandoned houses of Al Jazirah, Al Hamra.

The houses were left abandoned when people left for the city. Technically people still owe them, but most of the houses are in different states of ruins. It is also widely believed to be haunted, and it was pretty quiet when I was there! I explored the different ruins for a while, picturing what it would have been like to live there. I’m not sure I would be brave enough to actually do all of this exploring at night though!


Al Jazirah Al Hamra abandoned village

Once I had enough of exploring empty houses (or at least empty from things I could see…) I went to Dhayat Fort. The fort is an 18th Century fortification. It boasts 360º views over the entire valley. A rather strategic choice. It is also said to be the highest hilltop fort (as opposed to tower or lookout post) in the UAE.


Dhayat Fort

I was lucky to have the entire fort to myself, so I explored, took the obligatory selfies and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery.

Peaceful Sha’am. Can you spot the UAE flag painted on the rocks?

I got back in the car and drove to Sha’am, a coastal village in Northern Ras Al Khaimah. I dipped my toes really quickly in the super cold water and drove around the village. It was so quiet and peaceful. I stayed longer than I thought I would. Sha’am is located close to the border with Oman and I was very tempted to go, but since I had a rental car that was not insured outside of the UAE, I decided against it.

Sha’am

I turned around and since on my way I had seen a sign for Wadi Ghalilah and I had liked the name, I decided to drive it all the way to the end. When I got to the house at the very end of the road, I turned around and came back. The owner of the house looked rather puzzled as to who I was and what the hell I was doing there when there isn’t much to see! It did have a genuine feel though, like most small not-touristy villages I’ve visited everywhere in the world. The kind of place where time doesn’t have the same hold onto people. The life is simple and quiet.

Heading up to Jebel Jais

The road was very confusing because of some constructions and I followed the GPS to an actual highway exit, which I obviously took on the wrong direction. It was fairly flat between the exit and the road I was supposed to be on, so I quickly went offroad, got out of the exit and on my way. Pretending as if nothing had just happened!

Going to Jebel Jais

I kept going following my GPS but mostly the very few the signs to Jebel Jais (they have now added yellow signs pointing lost tourists in the right direction). Jebel Jais, at an elevation of 1934 m is the highest point of the UAE. The rugged mountain and the road leading up to the top is beautiful. I planned my trip so that I would arrive there at the end of the afternoon, sit for a bit to enjoy the views and the sunset before coming back to Ras Al Khaimah.

Jebel Jais

When I first went there, there was a main parking area, and a quieter area next to it (it’s changed a lot now, as it’s being developed for the Zipline). I sat there and took in the beauty of the place, and the calming feeling of being back in a mountainous area. People kept coming, mostly couples or families, to take photos. Most people were being rather loud, and didn’t seem to have the same feeling that I experience when I’m in nature. When it gorgeous around, I want to stay in silence, or whisper and take it all in. All that chatter and excitement was starting to get on my nerves, and instead of being calm, I was quickly getting annoyed.

Jebel Jais

Eventually, I realized some people had climbed up the mountain on the other side of the road, so I decided to copy their smart move. I changed my shoes, climbed up and finally got to enjoy some peace and quiet.

Second day, hike up Leopard Canyon

Since I realized I was far from being in a good enough shape to even consider a long hike (it had been a very long time since I’ve been on a proper hike) I decided on a short ”easy” one. I also liked the name although the story is not as cute as the name would suggest. Leopard Canyon was named that way as it’s where the last leopard was either seen or killed depending on the sources.

Ras Al Khaimah

I needed to fuel the car before I left the city, so I headed to a fueling station nearby according to my GPS. Of course, when I got there it was no longer a fueling station, but it was now turned into a parking lot. I finally found another station, and from Ras Al Khaimah, I followed the same road towards Jebel Jais, until the junction to a gravel road.

The road to Leopard Canyon, not ideal in a small rental car

I really didn’t have the ideal car to go off-roading so I went really slowly and it took forever to reach the beginning of the trail. I was almost at the village when the road got really bad. It was so bad that I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it with the car, so I parked on the side, and continued on foot. I walked past a farm and many goats which reminded me of Nepal.

Last house and it’s adorable residents before the hike

The Leopard Canyon hike is considered an easy walk, and while it is fairly easy, it can get quite difficult on the ankles since it’s mostly boulders and rocks. There’s also not many shaded areas once the sun is up.

Leopard Canyon

Luckily it was early enough that the sun had not passed the mountains yet so there was still a lot of shade for most of my hike. It was also winter season when I went, so the temperatures were bearable.

A tree! I have to attempt a photo shoot, right?

I walked past a beautiful tree and I felt like I had to stop for a photo shoot. It was a stunning location so I had to! Being alone though I couldn’t count on anyone else to take the photo. I resorted to using the timer, but it turns out running on rocks is not as easy as it looks! There was also a lot of flies who followed me for a while and kept disrupting the otherwise amazingly peaceful moment.

Leopard Canyon

When I reached the end of the canyon, I didn’t have quite enough of walking yet. I wanted to go see the view from the top, so I kept climbing until I reached the top, making sure I would be able to come down. It was a lot of scrambling up and I didn’t want to twist an ankle or stay stuck when no one knew where I was and there was no cell service!

At the top, I enjoyed the views for a bit. I wanted to keep going but I was unsure of the path to take and the sun was now out and it was getting very hot. I didn’t want to get lost and I was already tired so I made my way down carefully, slipping down the rocks multiple time, getting a back workout at the same time trying to keep my balance.

Shepherd’s house in Leopard Canyon

On my way out of the canyon, I noticed some shepherd’s houses and went to have a closer look before continuing my descent. It was a nice walk following my own rhythm but it got me super exhausted and I crashed into bed early that night. Driving out of the canyon, on the potholed road, made me realize that I clearly had not picked the right car for the job!

Road trip back to Fujairah and the East coast

The next day was my last day off. I wasn’t sure what I was in the mood for. I had originally thought of going back to the Desert Campus to get more jumps in, but since it was rather windy and I was in an exploring mode, I got back in the car and decided to drive to the East Coast and the other border of Oman. The drive was simply beautiful and it was the best decision I could have made.

Going East

On my way East to Diba, I stopped in a very small village which had the best view of the mountains. I parked the car and simply sat there for a while taking the views in. Once again some locals seemed to wonder what the hell I was doing there. But we nodded hello and they moved on with their day.

Waterfront promenade in Diba

When I arrived in Diba, I went towards Corniche street, passing a rather large oil lamp which made me laugh a lot! Back when I lived in Western Canada, I had done a side road trip to see what was claimed to be the largest oil lamp in the world. I still don’t quite understand why someone would decide to have that as their main tourist attraction…

Diba

Being the confused driver I can sometimes be, I took yet another a wrong turn. For some reasons, (I was most likely so lost in my music and my thoughts I wasn’t paying attention anymore) I took the wrong exit on the roundabout and picked the one that was leading to the actual Oman border control. I did an awkward u-turn in front of the gate and headed to the water, this time taking the right street, passing lovely municipal buildings.

Slightly windy!

It was very windy that day and Diba’s promenade reminded me of Baie-Comeau, the city I grew up in. The water, the rocks, the wind, I truly felt at home. I walked along the promenade for a while, looking at the Omani mountains on the other side. Eventually, I got back in the car and had to circle the whole promenade again because I, once again, missed the exit. In my defense though, they were doing a lot of work, and had cones and deviations everywhere!

Coral Bay, standing far from the cold water!

Shortly after I saw a car coming back from what looked like a beach, so I went too. Coral Bay was lovely and empty. I took a few photos, dipped my toes in the water and almost dropped my phone. I didn’t expect the water to be freezing cold, which explained why nobody was on the beach!

Al Bidiyah Mosque

I kept driving and stopping everywhere that looked potentially interesting: Faqiat Beach near the Fairmont hotel as well as Al Bidiyah Fort and Mosque. The Mosque dates from the 15th Century and is the oldest existing mosque in the UAE. After a quick look at the mosque, I walked up to the fort. I saw that I could walk up a little mountain next to the fort so I obviously had to go and explore. The view was perfect.

The path past Al Bidiyah Fort

There was a guy at the top and he asked if he could take my photo. At first, because of his thick accent, I thought he wanted me to take a picture of him at the top, but no, he simply wanted a photo of me there. Not even a photo with me… It’s always a bit weird to me but I thought why not.

Later on, I stopped at Sandy Beach where my friend Camille had recommended I stop. It was a beautiful white sand beach exactly how she had described. After sitting on the public beach for a while getting a lot of sand in my face because of the wind, and knowing I still had some driving to do, I decided to head back to Dubai.

Sandy Beach, and the mountain road behind me

It was so nice to explore and discover. This is the main thing that makes me happy in life. And while everyone at work seemed surprised I would go on such a road trip alone, I enjoyed my own company and had a really good time. This mini holiday recharged my batteries. A full day of skydiving, dinner with friends, mountain roads with old forts and small marinas finished by a stunning sunset, a hike in a rocky wadi and relaxing. And another road trip with mountains and gorgeous views. It was the perfect getaway.

I was rather proud of myself for going exploring pretty much without a GPS and allowing myself to get lost and stop everywhere I saw something interesting. Trusting my own navigational skills, even when it leads me to border crossings! Getting lost is not the end of the world and I can always turn back and return to where I came from. This realization made my road trips much more enjoyable. Of course in the cities or when trying to actually reach something I would use the GPS, but I’ve relearned to read the signs and notice stuff so I can find my own way instead of simply relying on technology.

Did you miss my other road trips in the United Arab Emirates?

Part 1: Fujairah and Jebel Hafeet

Part 3: Liwa: the biggest sand dunes of the UAE, and getting my rental car stuck in the sand.

Part 4: Hatta and ziplining from Jebel Jais.

UAE road trips – Part 1 – Fujairah and Jebel Hafeet

Living in Dubai was different than everything I’ve experienced before.

Being from Canada, I need a regular dose of nature otherwise I go crazy. I also need a regular fix of exploring and seeing something new. If I would have been born in the great exploration days, I would have definitely been on one of the many European boats exploring the world. I would most likely have either died on board or not been allowed because of my gender, but that’s beside the point!

Exploration and curiosity to see how things work in other countries are rooted deep in my genes.

When I started working in Dubai I rarely had two days off in a row. I was also torn between going skydiving or exploring on my days off. It’s actually a decision that I still struggle with all the time.

View from Jebel Hafeet, UAE

Once you have a working visa in the UAE, you need to switch your driver’s license to a local one. I was very lucky to be able to simply switch my license without having to take expensive driving courses like most nationalities have to do. The process was very quick and simple. All I needed was my license (and a certified letter from the embassy since it’s a French license), eye test, copies of my IDs and money. I went to the licensing office, gave all my paperwork, paid and was quickly handed my new license. It was actually still warm from the press when the guy handed it back to me.

As soon as I had switched my driver’s license to the UAE one, I knew a road trip was needed!

I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Canada where it’s always cheaper to drive than fly anywhere (I drove across the country multiple times, about 5000km one way) but I love to spend time on the road. I find it relaxing. It finally calms my overactive mind. I put my favourite music on, the scenery goes by and so do my thoughts. I simply love it.

Soon after leaving Dubai, heading East

At that point, I was housesitting for a friend. I had met her in Hamburg, Germany and had looked after her adorable dog. She was now also living in Dubai and needed someone to look after Tilda. She gave me access to her car so I could go to work and jump in the Desert Campus. This was the perfect opportunity for my first road trip.

I couldn’t go away for very long since I needed to come back to look after the dog, so I picked a location not too far. I had heard about Fujairah from friends and when I saw there was also a mountain called Jebel Hafeet that one could drive all the way up, my decision was easily made!

Heading East to Fujairah

As soon as I left Dubai towards Fujairah, the Emirate located on the East coast, the scenery changed to a desert and then to mountains. Seeing nature and mountains made me actually tear up. It felt so good to be outside of the city and see something else than super clean and superficial Dubai. The windy road up and down the mountain pass was exactly what I needed.

Curious cuties foraging through garbage in Al Hayl

There was barely anyone on the road and I really enjoyed my experience. After about one hour and a half, I turned at the beginning of Fujairah city towards Al Hayl and its castle. The village felt much more authentic and Middle-Eastern and it reminded me of my experience in Jordan.

Wadi Al Hail Dam, Fujairah

I drove next to Al Hail dam. Being the daughter of someone who used to work on maintaining dams for Hydro Quebec (the hydroelectricity company in the Province of Quebec) I’ve learned a fair amount about dams and always have to make a point of taking a photo of dams whenever I see them. This one seemed really small, dry and empty. Nothing to do with the Manic-5 dam near Baie-Comeau!

Al Hayl Castle

I kept driving toward Al Hayl Castle. There was no other tourist there when I arrived. I had read that the guardian of the castle was giving tours and he indeed took me to all the buildings, explaining their use in a rather broken English (explained by the fact that he was actually from Bengladesh).

Improvised photoshoot during my castle visit

During my short visit of Al Hayl Castle, the guide kept wanting to take photos of me with my phone, so it felt like a little photoshoot. Something I’m not a big fan of, but for once I have plenty of photos of myself that are not selfies!

My Canadian roots are not too far sometimes

After my visit to the castle, I returned towards Al Hayl village, but stopped in the Wadi to sit in the shade of a tree and take in the beautiful scenery. I ended up making a tiny Inukshuk. The silence felt very weird and unsettling which made me decide to rent a car and go explore other Emirates for my next days off.

Listening to the odd sound from a garbage lid moving into the wind, or an animal expressing itself in the distance, it made me realize how silence is rare nowadays. We rarely sit and listen to nothing. There’s usually traffic, horns, people, music, police or firefighter sirens, or in Dubai tourists showing off in their rental Ferrari and Maserati.

Road to Al Hayl, good thing I wasn’t driving a Maserati!

Being in a quiet and peaceful environment also means you can no longer escape your thoughts and feelings, and that can be really scary sometimes. Eventually, I had enough, I needed to move again, so I got back in the car and drove through the city of Fujairah. It was actually more in the industrial area towards Kalba, because I wanted to have a quick look at the coast of the Gulf of Oman. I took the mountain road between Kalba and Sharjah and the 102, going in a tunnel before exiting on the other side of the mountains. I went through Wadi Helo (I loved the name so I had to go have a look), and a few villages that obviously do not get to see that many tourists driving around much, or they simply like to stare a lot.

Beautiful road to Al Ain

It was nice to see the ”normal” Emirati life. There was a lot of massive villas and little shopping centres everywhere but also smaller houses. It had a much more genuine feel than anything I had experienced so far.

I went through Al Madam (that name made me laugh) to Al Jimi and crossed Al Ain entirely to reach Jebel Hafeet. Al Ain is a very pretty city with flowers and trees everywhere. It actually looked like a good place to live a quiet life. But I didn’t want to visit yet another city I wanted expansive mountain views.

Driving up Jebel Hafeet

The drive up Jebel Hafeet was so much fun. It’s a mountain road with sharp turns and places to stop everywhere along the way to enjoy the views. The top is rather underwhelming but it was worth the drive. When you reach the top parking, there’s a café, cars and people and it’s fenced everywhere. Not quite what I was expecting. The parking spots just before the top were actually a lot more enjoyable for me, being alone to enjoy the view and the sunset. No kids running around or people being super loud.

Jebel Hafeet café and massive parking lot

After the sunset, I came straight back to Dubai. Tired but happy. And I couldn’t wait to rent a car and go on other road trips. Being out of Dubai, exploring, not waiting on anybody else, doing exactly what I wanted and stopping where I wanted, felt so good. It would have been really nice to have someone to share that with of course, but I made the most of it and enjoyed myself. I was quite proud I went on my own for over 550 kms through unknown territories and cities. I trusted myself (and my GPS) and was pretty confident that worst comes to worst I could always turn around and come back.

Jebel Hafeet

After this road trip, I made it my priority to go out and explore more. It all started with that one little day trip, and next thing I knew I was hooked again!

Keep an eye out for the following posts if you want to see more of my road trips in the United Arab Emirates!

Part 2: Ras Al Khaimah, hiking in Leopard Canyon and my all-time favourite Jebel Jais

Part 3: Liwa: the biggest sand dunes of the UAE, and getting my rental car stuck in the sand.

Part 4: Hatta and ziplining from Jebel Jais

Iceland or nature at its best

Road trip in stunning Iceland
Road trip in stunning Iceland

Spur of the moment a few weeks ago, I decided to invite myself and join a friend for a few days in Iceland. It had always been on my wish-list and after sending countless friends to this incredible insular country, it was time to see if for myself.

It did not disappoint. Au contraire. It was so amazing, I seriously considered not getting on my plane to come back to Scotland. Even though I have been to many countries that I loved, I never considered not leaving when my time was up. Except for this time.

I loved my Icelandic experience so much that for the first time in my life, I actually could picture myself moving somewhere in the country. And settling. Somewhat anyway. I would obviously need a job and all (by the way, any of you happens to know someone hiring in tourism in Iceland?) but to come back and actually consider this is a very weird feeling, to say the least!

At first, I was worried to see if I would like Iceland as much as I thought I would. My expectations were so high, I was actually afraid of being disappointed. Instead, I fell in love with the place even more than I thought possible.

This was to be a small incursion. A little taster of Iceland.

Road trip in Iceland

Because we had a limited amount of time to spend in Iceland, we opted for a three-day road trip. There are plenty of tours available, but I do like more independence when I travel, so booking our little SUV was ideal.

Flying to Reykjavik from the UK is very quick and easy, especially if you only bring a carry-on size bag. I flew with EasyJet from Edinburgh and arrived in Reykjavik at 7 pm. One thing everyone recommends to do is to use the duty-free shop before you leave. The prices are apparently a lot more expensive in the city. I didn’t want to pay more than necessary for my drinks so I picked up a few bottles.

In order to get to the city, there are two bus companies, offering transfers at roughly the same price. I picked the Grayline bus. They bring you to their bus depot before putting all the travellers on mini-buses depending on which area you are heading. The other company, FlyBus, brings you to the BSI coach terminal. One thing that is worth mentioning and that my friend learned the hard way is that there are no more buses to the airport after 4 pm on Saturdays in winter. So make sure to look the schedule ahead of time, unless you want to stay in Iceland!

The minibus dropped me off at the Grayline office in the city centre and I met up with my friend at the Oddsson hostel. I don’t know if we were just lucky, but the vibe at the hostel was great. There’s a massive lobby and chill-out zone, and a great kitchen with big tables where people can sit around and make new best friends. My favourite kind of hostels.

Northern Lights -photo by Rizza Mae Sorino
Northern Lights -photo by Rizza Mae Sorino

Following my previous experience in Northern Canada, I knew it was worth having a look at the aurora predictions, so while everyone was getting ready for a beer pong game (without a ping pong ball, they had to be creative and ended up using grapes and shredded wheat), I grabbed my jacket and walked along the water. I ended up spending well over 2 hours outside. I wasn’t sure I was going to see anything at all as it was raining when I came out but sure enough, the sky cleared and there they were. Fairly faint but still very pretty pale-green moving auroras.  It was a magical start of the trip.

Adorable Icelandic horses
Some of the many adorable Icelandic horses

Day one – Icelandic horses, geyser, waterfalls, and lagoon

Before even taking the time to visit the capital, we picked up a car and hit the road. We followed the Golden Circle, driving through the very scenic Thingvellir National Park. We quickly found some Icelandic horses, so we had to stop to pet them for a little while.

Geysir
Geysir

We hadn’t made a plan before we left, so we improvised along the way. We stopped by the Geysir and found tonnes of tourists. We walked around the site, seeing the big Geysir erupt a couple of times and quickly got back to the quiet roads. Everything is signposted, so as long as you know the name of the place you want to go or at least the first few letters, it’s fairly simple.

Gullfoss waterfall
Impressive Gullfoss waterfall

We followed the sign to the impressively powerful Gullfoss waterfall. After enjoying the scenery for a bit, we got back in the car and took a side road. Everything was so pretty, every turn, the road and the scenery were even more amazing. At one point we saw a tour jeep parked on the side of the road, so we decided to have a look. It turned out to be the Brúarhlöð canyon. A great spot for some peace and quiet.

Brúarhlöð canyon
Peaceful Brúarhlöð canyon

We finished our first day of the road trip by a stop to the steamy Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin). It was quite crowded when we arrived, but soon the tour buses left, and it was very quiet and relaxing. We soaked for about 2 hours before heading back to Reykjavik.

In the hostel, we met up with a bunch of cool travellers, mostly from Canada, the States and the UK. At one point, people noticed the Northern Lights were still visible so my new Alaskan friend Rizza and I went for another walk along the bay. The auroras were a bit brighter than the day before and it was great to share that moment with someone as passionate about Northern Lights as me!

The not so secret Secret Lagoon
The not-so-secret Secret Lagoon

Day two – snowball fight, black sand beach, and private pool

For our second day of the road trip, we were joined by Rizza and Adam. It was a great road trip, checking all the boxes for an epic adventure. Gorgeous scenery, laughter, great conversations, snowball fight… it was a truly amazing day.

Our new friend Jeff
Our new friend Jeff

We left Reykjavik but this time drove on the route 1 towards Vik. Our first stop of the day was along the road as we saw some people taking pictures. As there was enough room to safely pull over, we did. The snow was in perfect condition for a snowball fight, so we couldn’t resist! Rizza also made a new snowman friend called Jeff.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Our first stop in a proper attraction was at Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This is a unique waterfall. At about 60 meters high and with a fairly thin cascade, it probably wouldn’t have the massive amount of tourists it gets if it wasn’t for the fact that you can walk behind the waterfall. It was as amazing and wet as I expected it to be. We quickly got drenched but it was well worth it!

Getting soaked behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Getting drenched behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall

About 500m to the side of the waterfall we found another great sight: Gljúfrabúi waterfall. In order to see this one, you have to walk in the canyon on some rocks, or in the water, since the rocks are so slippery! Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get a decent picture because of all the water spraying everywhere so in order to see it you might have to fly to Iceland yourself! I would highly recommend bringing a waterproof jacket and a change of clothes should you go there, though!

Glijufrabui waterfall
Glijufrabui waterfall hidden in the canyon

The sunlight in Iceland is truly amazing. It’s definitely the kind of light one finds only in the Northern countries and I love it. It makes for such dramatic landscapes as it brings out many different shades.

View of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano from Iceland Erupt
View of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano from Iceland Erupt

We stopped briefly at Iceland Erupt. A centre that explains the story of the eruptions of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. You can actually see the glacier covering the caldera of the volcano from the road, and it’s a good reminder of how powerful nature can be.

Skogafoss waterfall
Skógafoss waterfall

After Iceland Erupt we went to Skógafoss waterfall. I didn’t get too close this time, as I was almost dry, deciding instead to go up the fairly long flight of stairs to see it from the top. It was great! I even climbed onto a little rock formation before realising it wouldn’t be easy to come back down as it was quite the drop and the rock eroded way too easily. But being the little monkey that I am, I still had to climb it.

Solheimajakull glacier
Sólheimajökull glacier

Afterwards, we stopped at Sólheimajökull glacier and it was simply stunning. It’s a great walk to the glacier and there’s so much ice to see. It’s really impressive yet there’s only a tiny bit of the glacier that is visible from this area.

Afterwards, we went to Reynisdrangar where we saw the black sand beach and some of the strongest and biggest waves I’ve ever seen crashing onto a beach. Coupled with an amazing island and the Basalt Sea Stacks, once again it was truly stunning.

Reynisdrangar
Reynisdrangar, the black sand beach with amazingly powerful waves

We kept driving to Vík, the southernmost village of Iceland, and checked in the Vík hostel where we were lucky enough to get 4 beds in the same dorm. We relaxed for a bit and went to Suður-Vik to get some food before hitting the road again for one last epic adventure for the day.

Some other people had mentioned a pool they had been to and how they had had the whole place to themselves. That sounded pretty appealing to all of us, so after getting directions from a guide we met walking back from the glacier, we drove to Seljavallalaug, which is one of the oldest pools in Iceland. It was built in 1923 and there’s a trickle of water coming in from a hot spring somewhere nearby.  It is by no mean hot like a lagoon, but it’s definitely worth going!

Getting there was half the fun. We made it to the end of the road with the car and from there we walked about 15 minutes towards the end of the valley in total darkness. It would have been a perfect setting for a typical teenage American horror movie. Four tourists following rough directions, heading to a pool where there’s absolutely nothing around, in total darkness and including a few challenges like crossing a stream and trying not to trip on rocks.

We had trouble locating the path as it was pitch black, but eventually, we made it. I was pretty glad both Rizza and I had head torches, otherwise, I’m not sure we would have been brave enough to give this a try! The water was actually not that hot, more like the temperature your bath water gets when you get out of it, but it was still quite a cool experience to be in the water with no one else around, swimming and looking at the surrounding mountains silhouettes, knowing the glacier was right there too. Unfortunately, the sky was not clear so we didn’t get to see any Northern Lights. My newly found friends were the perfect companions as I’m not sure that many others would have been down to walk to an unknown area, in a very dark night to try to find a pool! It was a perfect end to a great road trip day.

Road trip! photo by Rizza Mae Sorino
Road trip photoshoot! photo by Rizza Mae Sorino

Day three – black sand beach, photoshoot and back to the lagoon

The last day of our road trip was another very interesting day. We left Vík at around 10:30 and our first stop was another small black sand beach (Kirkjufjara beach) which boasted a great view over a rock with a hole in it, a little bit like Percé in Canada. It was so windy and rainy, I loved every single minute spent outside as this is my favourite kind of weather when you can feel the full force of the elements. It makes me feel like I can finally breathe.

Kirkjufjara beach
Kirkjufjara beach

Later on, we stopped at a random spot because Adam had a look out of the window and his hat flew away. We turned around to pick it up and did a little photoshoot as the view was simply amazing once again. We made our way pretty much straight to the airport to drop Rizza off as it was already time for her to head back home.

Some of the amazing scenery along route 1
Some of the amazing scenery along route 1

Afterwards, we returned to the Secret Lagoon where we joined a few people we had met at the hostel. When we arrived at the lagoon I wasn’t feeling super sociable so I said a quick hello and swam a bit further away. I’m not used to travelling with people anymore, and sometimes you just need a breather. Especially when there is the option of soaking in a very relaxing lagoon!

We stayed for another two hours in the water and it was amazing. Very relaxing once again.

We headed back to Reykjavik, dropped the car and met with all our friends in the hostel. It was Friday night, so we had to have a look at Reykjavik’s nightlife. It’s not something I do much anymore, going out dancing, but this was a great night where I met many locals and had an overall amazing time.

Hallgrimskirkja
Hallgrímskirkja

Last moments in Iceland – church, food, and wanting to stay

For my last day in Iceland, I went to Hallgrímskirkja, an interestingly different church in the centre of Reykjavik. As always when I am in a city, I had to go up the tower to have a look at the view. And as to be expected, it was lovely!

We went to Gló for a very tasty meal (they have options for vegan, raw and meat-eater alike) and it was already time for me to get on the bus and get back to the airport.

It was the first time in my life where I thought that missing my flight would actually be amazing. I mean, I would have to stay in this awe-inspiring country. It could be a lot worst!

My love story with Iceland is far from over. We have just started to get to know each other, and already I know I will return. I’ve never felt compelled to stay somewhere in my years of travels, but Iceland clearly won me over.

If you happen to know of a tourism business in Iceland who would be interested in hiring a passionate and friendly Canadian, let me know!

Adam, Rizza, Qasim and I, by the Sólheimajökull glacier. Photo by Rizza Mae Sorino