Sands of Time
Published on Friday, December 28, 2012
Thursday, November 8, 2012 - Dubai, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) / Embark Clipper Odyssey: We started our journey through the Sands of Time in Dubai, one of seven Emirates which combine to create the United Arab Emirates. We began with an ascent up the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. With views over the city of Dubai and beyond, it was the first of many stupendous sights of the day. Our visit to the Dubai Museum in Al Fahidi Fort reminded us that although much of what we see in Dubai today has been built within a single generation, its heart contains an older trading settlement. Making a brief stop into the world of snow and the Dubai Ski Slope, we continued on to one of Dubai’s other superlative constructions, the vast man-made Palm Island. We traveled to its outermost tip for what turned out to be a veritable cornucopia of food in the Kaleidoscope Restaurant in the extraordinary Atlantis Hotel. The hotel seemed to be built on the principals of modern airports, with shopping opportunities tempting you as you move towards the restaurant; the fish in the vast aquarium would, however, not be on our menu. Our final expedition of the day was back out to sea as we embarked our home for the upcoming weeks, the Clipper Odyssey.
Friday, November 9 - Abhu Dhabi:
After an overnight voyage to the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, our first visit of the day was the Fish Market where an extraordinary variety of freshly caught fish were on display. From fish to fowl we arrived at the Falcon Hospital on the desert edge of Abu Dhabi. Here Hassan from Jordan, Amado from the Philippines, and Ranjit from India gave us an enthralling insight into the world of falcon passports, manicures, and beak trimming. After an excellent lunch on the Clipper Odyssey, we enjoyed a sumptuous High Tea at the Emirates Palace Hotel, where the glint of gold provided a backdrop to dainty sandwiches, cakes, and cups of English tea. The Arabian Nights seemed to have sprung into life as we made our final visit of the day into the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Dazzling white marble and floral inlays created a mosque style probably unique in the region. Later, we joined the captain for cocktails and dinner after he introduced us to key members of the ship’s crew.
Saturday, November 10 - Sir Bani Yas Island: Anchoring off the island of Sir Bani Yas, we jumped into waiting Zodiacs for the almost too smooth boat ride onto shore to begin our animal and bird safari. In authentic safari Jeeps, we explored this island with its collection of fauna. We sighted both Arabian and reem gazelles, Arabian and scimitar oryx, and the eagle-eyed among us managed to see more than one cheetah. The Jeep with the bird-watchers managed to spot a houbara bustard (which is a key prey of some of the hunting falcons we saw yesterday), a female common kestrel, a striking pair of Caspian terns and a pair of desert wheatears. Following lunch on board, Gary Wintz gave an absorbing insight into Iran and its relationship with the United States; after an ice cream social, Allan Langdale enlightened us with elements of mosque architecture.
Sunday, November 11 - Doha, Qatar: Today we not only entered a new country, Qatar, but also stepped back an hour into a different time zone as we arrived in Doha, the capital city. Our first stop of the morning was at the Souq Waqif (which means the standing souq) with splendid Arabian horses walking through the streets and local Qatari men drinking coffee—it was a wonderfully atmospheric location. Falcons were also found here, and several shops had dozens available for sale. We continued on to see how pampered horses can be in Doha and saw the first dromedary camels of the voyage. After returning to the Clipper Odyssey for lunch, we departed for the acclaimed Museum of Islamic Arts. On three floors, superbly exhibited examples of art from the core of the Islamic World were displayed. The glass, carpets, ceramics, and of course, calligraphy were exquisite in themselves; the remarkable building and its carefully engineered display cases enhanced each piece so we could appreciate and admire the skills used to create them.
Monday, November 12 - Doha: Our morning began with a talk by Tony Walsh in which he explained how the nations of the Arabian Gulf evolved into what they are today. Then in a fleet of air-conditioned Jeeps we left the city of Doha for its surrounding desert. After dispensing with the beat of Lady Gaga we swept past residential areas and the industrial district to the edge of the dunes where some air was let out of the tires so the cars’ weight spread, and allowed our driver to get us through the sands without getting bogged down. But of course as young men, the drivers did more than get us there – they swept up and down and sometimes sideways through the dunes creating a frisson of excitement amongst some passengers. Naturally, we all arrived at our splendid beachfront destination with little more than a photo to remember the experience by. While the barbeque was prepared we swam, played Frisbee, and relaxed in our ‘Sheikh Tents.’ Our return to the Clipper Odyssey included a brief drive along the Doha Corniche where we could better appreciate some of the award-winning buildings which grace the seafront.
Tuesday, November 13 - Sharjah, U.A.E.: While at sea, Tony gave a talk on Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of Oman, and an insight into the stability of the country. We arrived once again in the United Arab Emirates, this time into Sharjah. Though still an oil producer, its production is a fraction of the country as a whole. After disembarkation we took a journey through the city and arrived at the Museum of Islamic Civilization. Here, galleries with scale models showed the scientific equipment used in the core of the Islamic world. Other galleries displayed the cultural heritage of the region with extensive explanations of its religious heart. A short drive took us to Bait Al Naboodah as the evening flights of swifts swirled over head.
Wednesday, November 14 - Al Khasab / Musandam Peninsula, Oman: Those who rose early were treated to a sunrise which illuminated the mountains of Oman’s Musandam Peninsula. We berthed in Al Khasab and a short drive took us to the town’s small fortress. Inside we found a museum which carefully explained not only the history and culture of this northern region of Oman, but also how its dramatic geology was formed. Then it was out to sea again, this time in a very different style to our own ship as we stepped aboard a traditional Omani dhow. Our voyage would take us past the towering limestone cliffs with accompanying Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. For lunch we anchored off Telegraph Island and enjoyed an onboard feast, as swimmers were able to join jewel-like tropical fish in the warm waters.
Thursday, November 15 - Fujairah, U.A.E.: As we arrived in our fourth Emirate, Fujairah, we took a short photo stop at the forts of Fujairah and Bithnah before arriving at Masafi Friday Market—on a Thursday! We found well presented fruit for sale, including some sweet bananas and vegetables, along with simple pottery and a wide variety of carpets. We followed the road through stark mountains of igneous ophiolite to the small ancient mosque of Bidiya. The prayer leader was delighted to invite us inside and explained that members of his family lived in the United States. Lunch was a splendid buffet at Le Meridian Al Aqua Hotel which for some was followed by swims, in both the beautiful swimming pool and the Sea of Oman. As the Clipper Odyssey sailed for Muscat we listened to Gary discuss Iran and its critical role in the future of the Arabian Gulf region.
Friday, November 16 - Muscat, Oman: The city of Muscat and Port Sultan Qaboos was to be our final destination on our voyage through the Sands of Time. Whitewashed buildings fringed the stark mountains after our speedy journey from Fujairah. The day would see us travel through the mountains from Muscat and the coast to Nizwa which in the past had been a capital of Oman. The fort was kept open especially to allow us to make a visit. On climbing up the main tower we gazed over a vast date oasis set in a bowl of seemingly desolate mountains. Lunch was another classic ‘Gulf Buffet’ with the traditional dessert um ali, a very sweet bread-based pudding. Then we visited the oasis of Birkat al Mawz where we strolled through ancient mud houses under a spreading canopy of date palms. Our return to the port was just before sunset and the street lighting, set up for Oman’s National Day, cast the town in a different light. Our final evening was hosted by Captain Nikolay Tiliyuk, during which he reflected on an eventful and enjoyable voyage before we all enjoyed our final superb dinner aboard the Clipper Odyssey.
Saturday, November 17 - Muscat: After remaining in Muscat overnight, we set off for the legendary Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. With a Persian interior and refined exterior, it managed to live up to its reputation. Despite having traveled through major oil producing countries for several days, it was in Muscat that we were finally able to see some of the complexities that oil extraction involves, at the Petroleum Development of Oman’s Oil Museum. From there we traveled to the maze of passages that is Muttrah Souq. Shawls, gifts, frankincense, and more found their way back on board our bus. Our final group meal was to be at the Shangri-la Resort, where another sumptuous buffet awaited us and we could dine in the shade near the sea. Our final destination was the museum at Bait al Zubair. Here we found a model of Nizwa Fort, as well as women’s and men’s traditional silver accessories and, importantly, a gift shop complete with toys including glamorous female camels and groaning male camels. Finally we stepped aboard the Clipper Odyssey where many farewells were made, before we set off on our way home.