Traveller's tales

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Jebel Hafeet , UAE – an island peak

Looking down Jebel Hafeet from the poolside terrace of the Mercure Hotel – 5000 feet below- a patchwork of orange peel sand, dark green squares of trees and arrow straight lines of dual-carriageways, punctuated by pink-roofed, white villas, and farms, lies the city of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates - an oasis surrounded on three sides by desert, and on the fourth by the mountains of the Sultanate of Oman.

Jebel Hafeet, rising straight out of the plains of the desert in the north east of the Abu Dhabi Emirate, is surrounded by huge capital projects – horizontal ones, unlike their vertical equivalent in Dubai – forests of young saplings, recently planted, watered by miles of pvc pipes siphoning water from desalination plants inland to a million thirsty trees – cement factories fuelling the multitude of buildings flying upwards around the country.

Jebel Hafeet, a recumbent monster trailing a jagged ridged tail – a spur of mountain stretching like the petrified vertebra of a huge marine mammal – nudging into the town of Al Ain, dividing neighboring suburbs, forcing detours around football stadium size boulders, or else dynamited right angular defiles through living rock – cordited canyons with sides fluted like cathedral walls of pink, yellow and white limestone.

Black, freckled squares of young trees, spaced by the precision of machinery – row upon row like so many aces stretching out in a casino table of forest to slow the desert’s unceasing, unrelenting crawl over everything.

The far distance obliterated by the heat haze that won’t go away much this side of darkness of evening. Night falls – humidity rockets without the sun burning it – desert vistas become clear and sharp – colonnades of street lighting – red tail lights of endless taxis and Toyota Land Cruisers burning into the retina of nightfall.

A twinkling of house lights, a waft of the faded remnants of the half-imagined roar of the city floats up on the cooling air.

A feeling of coolness – so rare at this time of the year as a breeze that has picked up the fragrance of an orange grove flows over us – nature’s air-conditioning that has a little moisture still left to enter grateful nostrils and wet arid eyelids.

Without the sun to limit the climb of the humid air up the sides of the mountain, a trip in a car beckons, promises some airy relief from the hot stillness after the refreshing zephyrs have slowed almost to a standstill.

The day at the top of the mountain is over and only lizards and night watchmen on security rounds enjoy night air on the island peak of Jebel Hafeet.

Robert L. Fielding

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