Day 23: Fujairah, United Arab Emirates (UAE)
ABOARD OCEANIA’S NAUTICA — When we sailed out of Muscat last evening with the setting sun we thought we were saying farewell to Oman. It turned out otherwise.
We booked all our Oceania-offered shore excursions weeks before we left home in order to take advantage of advance purchase discounts. We selected the “Mountain Safari” excursion to take during our 8-hour port call at Fujairah, because it sounded like a mini adventure and change of pace from city bus tours. It was.
Only we hadn’t remembered we wouldn’t actually be seeing much of Fujairah. We left the industrial port where Nautica docked in a convoy of a dozen Toyota Land Cruisers each with four passengers, and sped north up the coast. Our driver, Zaffir, spoke and understood very little English and none of us spoke any Arabic, so we did not get a narrative of the sights or history and culture, and only occasionally received a comprehensible answer to an inquiry.
The city of Fujairah looks to be a modern metropolis with high-rise buildings and industrial facilities around the port. Beaches, dotted with resorts and low-rise development, string along the shore to the north.
We made a 20-minute rest stop after an hour or so and another at the border with Oman for passport checks. The next three hours we were back visiting a detached fragment of the Sultanate of Oman, on the Musandam Peninsula, separated from the main body of the country by about 50 miles of UAE territory.
Shortly after crossing the border we turned inland up a large wadi (desert wash) and soon left pavement behind as our convoy churned-up a dense cloud of dust. We were headed into the Hajjar Mountains with peaks over 3,000 feet elevation.
We climbed steadily, twisting, turning and bumping as the wadi drew increasingly narrow. We wondered aloud whether the roll-cage installed in the Toyota was to protect us, or merely to reassure us. Stopping where the canyon was maybe 25 feet wide and many hundreds of feet deep, we all photographed the narrow road, the steep slopes where some stray goats clambered sure-footedly, and each other.
Continuing upward past tiny, seemingly abandoned villages, we finally parked the SUVs at a pull-out near the crest to soak-in the barren, dramatic mountain vistas and try to capture the drama in digital images. After cold sodas we headed back the way we came, returning to the ship 5½ hours after we left.
Oceania offered three other shore excursions at Fujairah including time at the beach, a desert safari, and one where we could have gotten a look at the city and surrounding area. We were also offered shuttle busses to take us out of the port area with a second bus to take us to a shopping center. Finally, we could have hired a taxi or a local guide.
We found the rugged, sparsely vegetated Hajjar Mountains an in-your-face geology lesson, and wondered about the tiny villages with terraced fields that could be fallow, or abandoned.
We may have made the best choice from available options here but are mildly disappointed not to have a little better sense of this port-of-call.