For us Dubaians (is that a word?), it can be easy to forget, with all the high rises and beautiful cityscapes, that we are just a tiny town in the middle of a beautiful, expansive desert -- filled with diversity. Most people think of the desert as a dry, dead thing.
That quote was an excerpt from a fascinating book, which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to understand more about this region and how its history with other nations and empires have affected society today.
Getting back on topic though, Dubai is pretty spectacular because you can drive for just 15 minutes and find yourself in a vast expanse of desert; a sea of seemingly-endless burnt umber crystal dunes. And the desert is, indeed, full of life, mystery and magic. Most tourists who come to the UAE visit Dubai -- and perhaps Abu Dhabi as well. But these are just two of the seven states -- 'Emirates' or Kingdoms (Amir/Emir is a kind of King in Arabic) -- that comprise the United Arab Emirates. The others are Ajman, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Quwain and Fujairah.
One weekend, since we are rarely all together in the same city, my family and I decided to take a spontaneous road-trip up the coast to Fujairah, Kalba and Dibba. We stocked up on the amazing breakfast food at The Sum of Us and off we were!
Fujairah is a small seaside Emirate, separated from the rest of the country by a long line of mountains (jebel Hajar), dotted with a peculiar juxtaposition of luxury resorts, office blocks and tiny, local seaside businesses. Fujairah is fishing town and the locals there live very simple lives. They have a deep and committed relationship to the land and the sea, and they spend their time working outdoors in nature -- quite a contrast from the glamorous, glitzy hustle-and-bustle of Dubai. *I will be uploading a video from this trip onto my YouTube channel.
But Fujairah's size shouldn't negate its rich history. In fact, its historic sites are the best protected and preserved in the country. For instance, al-Bidyah Mosque is the oldest mosque in the UAE. It's beauty is timeless, and somehow it manages to look like a modern Barcelona time peace, despite being part of a site that has been inhabited for 4000 years, with a Muslim graveyard that is as old as 1000 years. The Fort, as well, is quite a marvel. It was built four hundred years ago but was damaged during the war in which Britain attempted to capture and colonize the region. The Department of Archaeology and Heritage has invested significant effort into restoring the surrounding area, so you can see beautiful old wind-tower houses and micro-museums that display the bedouin way of life. The nearby Fujairah Museum houses Bronze Age pottery, weaponry, tools, coins and crafts.
We have stayed at the beach resorts there before -- but we weren't looking for that type of experience this time. We much preferred to visit local areas, eat in local restaurants and enjoy the simple pleasures of the town. So, after a quick pit-stop at a ridiculously modern KFC bathroom (seriously, why is that even there?), we scouted around for a cute cafe to eat in. We had driven from Dubai through Kalba, and found a place on the way from there to Fujairah beach called Bint al Nokhatha.
We came upon a little place that looked unassuming from the outside, but on entering, we found a beautiful cafe, complete with barasti (date palm) roof thatching, an expansive garden, Arabian kilm seating, kind servers in traditional dress (though they were all Filipino, and not Fujairah locals) and a beach view.
I was not feeling very well, so all I craved was JUICE. In the UAE, fresh fruit juice abounds. It is so much cheaper than in the USA or Europe. In fact, fresh juice and mint lemonade are staples of the local cuisine, not just here but all over the Middle East.
I wasn't really worried about finding vegan options because Arabic food is centred around vegetables, beans, bread, rice and fruit. That's why it makes for such beautiful food photography.
Arabic meals are often comprised of a mezze - the Arabic equivalent of tapas. Meals are almost always eaten with frsh, warm flat breads, zaatar (thyme-based lemony spice mix), hummous and pickles. I chose hummus Beiruti (has herbs added), and you can imagine my excitement when they brought out my favorite food in the world, sticky dates!
My family got fresh grilled fish while I, vegan that I am, ordered rice and fattoush, which is a signature Levantine salad made with fried Arabic pita croutons, pomegranate syrup, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, lemon juice, ground sumac, olive oil and salt. It is absolutely delicious, and here they added purple cabbage and lime as well. A true flavor explosion, and beautifully fresh.
The scene was absolutely serene and peaceful. There's no other way to describe it. Fujairah has a quietness that you cannot really find in Dubai. At the beach resorts, there are far more people on the sand and in the water but for the most part, the beaches in Fujairah are quiet, with just a few families strolling along and a handful of boats parked on the shore. The lunch was fresh, and the natural, warm and sunny environment in which we ate only added to the experience. I'm a simple creature: for me, the best meal isn't about gourmet dishes prepared with the utmost difficulty. I certainly enjoy those things, but for the most part, I like to eat simple, whole, plant foods. And of course, the best part about food is its communal qualities. Food, like music, art and film, is a universal language that has the power to bring people together. Eating in nature with my family is as pretty close to perfect as it can get for me. I did love the tire swings too -- how creative!
We went for a dip at the beach next to the Radisson Blu afterwards. One can swim in the public area there, but there is also the option to pay to use the pool and private beach of one of the many beach resorts. The cost is around AED150, and included is a towel, beach chairs, sun loungers, volleyball/football areas, and more. If you just want to swim, the public beach is fine, though its better to stick close to those just outside the hotels. I even saw families camping out there -- that's on my list for sure!
Have you been to Fujairah? Where in the UAE do you like to visit? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
You can follow my adventures on Instagram @soraya.beheshti or snapchat (soraya.b), and definitely subscribe to my YouTube channel for exclusive content on traveling, tips, adventures, spirituality and question-and-answer sessions. Feel free to ask me anything in the comments below.
Lots of love,