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Tag Archives | Noukhada


Last week, we finally managed to do a full-moon kayak expedition with Noukhada, which leads all kinds of eco-friendly tours in and around Abu Dhabi.  Our first attempt to do a full-moon trip was cancelled because of a sandstorm, our second attempt fell during Eid and we were away, but third time is the charm. Last week was also the lunar eclipse but capturing the eclipse was beyond the capacity of my iphone, which I had with me in a very sophisticated waterproof carrying case: two ziploc baggies.  (Dear Santa, if you’re listening: I would love to find a water-proof camera under the Christmas tree.)

The kayak trip goes through the mangrove swamps that line the eastern edge of Abu Dhabi. As we paddled, we watched the eclipsing moon: reflecting first the pink of sunset, then becoming a series of ever-smaller crescents as the earth passed across the moon face, and then slowly waxing back to full.  The paddling was juuust this close to magic, marred only by the incessant chatter of the other group paddling with us and by the eventual whining of Caleb, who decided (about 70 minutes in) to let everyone know that he was tired. And hungry. And bored. (Note to self: next time you contemplate a two-hour kayaking expedition that occurs during the dinner hours, schedule it sans enfants).

Luckily, Caleb was not in my kayak, or I might have deposited him on a mangrove island and left him until morning.  As it was, Husband bore the brunt and I paddled ahead with a friend, losing the whining in the sound of fish leaping across the water (and occasionally landing in kayaks, then wiggling back into the water).

In the mangroves it is possible to see flamingos, turtles, sometimes even dolphins, but the habitats are slowly being eroded as Abu Dhabi sprawls ever further outward.  The much-vaunted 2030 plan created by the government says that “vital ecologies must be preserved … the best way to accomplish this is through the establishment of a National Park system adjacent the city that takes in both terrestrial and marine environments. Development would be forbidden in the National Park, and all activity carefully regulated to ensure that the mangroves, sea grass beds, and migratory birds will always be a part of Abu Dhabi’s ecological identity.”  Fabulous. Love a National Park that preserves all that natural eco stuff, right?

But. As happens the world over, this good-sounding government plan hasn’t quite leaped off the drawing board.  In the mangroves, some of the bigger channels are being dredged so powerboats can speed through–and the wake from the boats is eroding the banks of the channels. Our guide said that several of Noukhada’s initial launch points had been closed down because of development projects (all of which seem to have stalled due to the world financial crisis…perhaps a tiny silver lining in the financial gloom?).  In fact, the place where we’d launched from that night might be closed in the not-too-distant future. Seems one of the Sheikhs wants to build a new palace along the bay.

In the meantime though, we paddled along in the silvery darkness and I felt very far from…everything.  And who knows. Maybe the palace won’t be built, the condo plans will fall through, the resorts will resort to other sites.  Maybe the mangroves won’t disappear under a wash of overblown development; maybe the watery silence will remain a haven for all–fish, fowl, or human.


Continue Reading · on December 15, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, environment, Politics, UAE, urban nature

in which we learn to redefine “bad weather”

It was going to be glorious. A full moon kayak expedition into the mangrove forests that grow on one side of Abu Dhabi island (what’s that you say? you didn’t know Abu Dhabi is an island? It’s an island sort of like Manhattan is an island: easy to forget when you’re deep in the scrum of traffic and tall buildings but then you get up into one of the skyscrapers or out to the shore road and WOW look at all that water!)

The kayak trip was part of the consolation celebration of Husband hitting what some friends characterized as the 20th anniversary of his 30th birthday—yes, one of those birthdays commonly acknowledged as “milestones” (although “millstones” might be more appropriate).

To acknowledge Husband’s (mostly) graceful aging we had a wee cocktail party (what’s that you say? Cocktails? In a Muslim country? Isn’t liquor punishable with forty lashes or something? Well…technically you’re supposed to have an officially issued “liquor license” to buy booze. Or you just have to look so emphatically non-Muslim that no one bats an eyelash).

A few days after the party we had planned this kayaking trip through Noukhada (they run eco-friendly tours here in town), and then at the end of the week an elegant dinner with friends.  And finally (because turning 50 39 apparently warrants a year-long celebration) we’re thinking about a trip to the Maldives, before they sink into the ocean, but that’s a post and a plan for another day.

Full moon kayaking.  Two nights ago at moon-rise, the light was so bright I could see my shadow (cue Cat Stevens here). I imagined us in kayaks gliding through quiet waters with moonlight gleaming in the trees, the hum of the city far behind us.  I had figured out how to wrap my little camera in a Ziploc baggie and was hoping for a great moonrise photo that I could post for the Wordless Wednesdays meme.

Talking about our trip in an email to a friend, I wrote (smugly, I must confess), a nice thing about living here is that you know outdoor plans won’t be scuttled because of the weather.

Off we went, my newly elderly Husband and I, in a friend’s borrowed car, threading our way through the Formula I racetracks that masquerade as city streets. We had an iPhone GPS, we had printed map directions from the kayak company, and…we got lost. The streets don’t connect; they dead-end in walls of shops and apartment buildings, or circle back on themselves into little cul-de-sacs.  We could see the road we wanted to be on, but like they say in Maine, we couldn’t get theah from heah.

Just as I was fumbling for my phone to call the kayak company to say we were going to be late and please don’t take off without us, my phone rang.  It was the kayak expedition leader, who said that the trip was being cancelled due to…


Husband and I looked at each other, looked out the window. Not raining. No plagues of frogs or locusts (we’re living in an ancient land, here, people, the original angry-gods-smiting-whatever-pisses-them-off country; it could happen); no thunder storms.  It was a little foggy out, a little hazy, but the mist comes with the heat.

I opened the car window, looking for weather.  It wasn’t misty at all.  It was sandy.

Sand finer than talcum whirled in the streets; I saw pedestrians squinting against the wind, palm tree fronds shaking back and forth, and women wrestling to keep their hijabs from being pulled off their heads.  I couldn’t see the moon, though, which means that out on the mangroves, it would’ve been pitch black.

Sandstorm. That’s the bad weather that cancelled our trip.

Sandstorm conjures up Dune (not the movie, the book!), sand-worms, Lawrence of Arabia on a camel squinting his impossibly blue eyes into the impending storm, but alas, Peter O’Toole is not thundering towards me on a camel.  There’s just a lot of grit whistling through the hot night air.

Husband and I admit defeat, make our way back home.  Maybe next month, inshallah, we’ll get our moonrise kayak paddle.

If the weather cooperates.

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Continue Reading · on October 13, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, sports, UAE, wordless wednesday

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