March 20, 2022: The East Coast
After a fantastic morning in Ras Al Khaimah and Jebel Jais, my girlfriend Maisie and I got in the car to head to our next emirate of Fujairah.
2 hours of desert driving later, we reached the east coast of the United Arab Emirates. The emirate borders are very complex here, but we started in Fujairah. Our first stop was the country´s oldest mosque, Al Bidya. The mosque itself was tiny but there are nice views of the countryside and the sea.
Next, we drove briefly through an exclave of the emirate of Sharjah and its over the top university complex in Khor Fakkan. Before 1952, Fujairah was officially part of Sharjah and it appears they got to keep Khor Fakkan in the divorce. As we left town, we got off the highway and ended up in Madha, a tiny exclave of Oman – a separate country! Suddenly, my UAE cell coverage stopped.
You may be wondering why on earth the tiny 75 square kilometer (29 sq. mi) plot of desert is part of Oman. When the UAE became a country, various towns allied themselves with certain emirs. In the 1930´s, the people of Madha decided to align with the sultan of Oman thinking that Oman would be a wealthier and superior government. And so, it was decided that this tiny town would become part of Oman despite being a 90 minute drive from anywhere else in the country. But the story gets even weirded – in the middle of Madha is the even tinier village of Nahwa, which decided to ally with Sharjah and the UAE. Nahwa is an exclave within an exclave (also known as a second-level exclave)!
The only practical purpose of going to Madha is for the gas station. As both the Emirati and Omani governments are major petroleum exporters, they both have fixed gasoline prices. The price in Oman happens to be about 40% cheaper than the UAE ($0.98/liter vs $0.61/liter – $3.70/gallon vs $2.35/gallon). As a result, dozens of cars were lined up to fill their tanks. Besides the gas station, the only other point of interest is a park with a non-functional fake waterfall. Although I technically visited Oman, I am not going to count it as Country 79.
The drive from Nahwa into Fujairah city took just 20 minutes. Our hotel (dare I say, resort) was right on the beach. After checking in, we headed to the beach for a quick swim before soaking in the hot tub located right next to the beach.
In the hot tub, we met an Indian man who had lived in the UAE for nearly 30 years. He had built up a business of car part import shops. His company had over 100 employees and he was the CEO! Unfortunately, his company had a forced retirement age of 70 – set by the Board. Due to the UAE´s employment laws for foreigners, he had 3 months to find a new job or lose his residency. While there is no official retirement age in the country, companies are only allowed to recruit employees over the age of 65 with approval from the government and must pay a much higher fee to keep them. As a result, he is essentially being deported from the country. Yes, he can come back as a tourist or under a retirement visa, but he can´t continue to work at his current job. It is impossible for a foreigner to obtain Emirati citizenship.
Because of this, he has decided to move to Vancouver, Canada to live with his daughter and soon-to-be-born grandchildren. He said he is not ready for the shock of going from CEO to unemployed grandfather, but “so is life”.
As we left the hot tub, he said “good luck in the rest of your life”. How fatalist!
For dinner, we drove into town which is full of high rises that are very spread out. We drove along the very wide and busy main street until we reached a Lebanese restaurant. The two-story restaurant featured a stunning galaxy ceiling on the second floor, which is the “family” section aka the place where women are allowed.
The portions were so large we split an appetizer plate and that was it.
Afterwards we drove to a local hypermarket called Lulu. The massive grocery store showcased the UAE´s goal of being THE global nation. Every item of produce or meat was labeled by nationality. The produce came from all over the globe: Australia, South America, Africa, and Europe! The UAE didn´t produce much, but there were some local tomatoes and dates. I am not sure how one chooses between the Kenya, Pakistan, Sudan, or Australian beef.
Finally, the long, rewarding, day was at an end, and we went to sleep.
March 21, 2022: Fujairah City
Fujairah City is the 7th largest city in the UAE but feels like a big place due to the presence of all the high rises.
During the morning I hoped to see all the highlights in this very non-touristy town.
Our first stop was the Fujairah Fortress. Built in the 1500´s, it is the oldest and largest fort in the country. Due to its distinctive round shape and location on top of a hill, it stands out as the symbol of the city and Emirate of Fujairah.
While most of its history is unknown, the fort was occupied by Wahhabis in the early 1800´s and in 1935, the British bombed the fort which destroyed some towers. It then sat abandoned for nearly 70 years until the UAE government decided to restore it.
The restoration looks great, but there is not much to see inside. It´s not that big and most of the rooms are empty. Still, it’s nice to see that the UAE is doing something to preserve its culture and heritage.
Next, we drove 2 minutes over to the Fujairah Museum. This museum showcased the history and culture of the emirate. Unlike the Ras Al Khaimah Museum, which had very few labels and artifacts, the Fujairah Museum was well organized and built for tourists. The sections included archaeological finds, the fishing industry, a sample house and weapons. The museum is small and can be seen in less than 30 minutes. But it was well-done.
At 11:00, we drove to the newest attraction in town, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. This is the 2nd largest mosque in the country (the largest mosque, the Sheikh Zayed GRAND Mosque, is in Abu Dhabi).
The mosque is built in 2015 and is in the Ottoman style. So, it feels like a brand new copy of Istanbul´s Blue Mosque. For non-Muslims, entry into the mosque is allowed on a guided tour which is free but must be pre-arranged.
When we entered the mosque parking lot, we were the only car. An attendant made sure that Maisie was fully covered (they do not give out clothing, but we came prepared). Then we walked over to the entrance where we were greeted by two security guards and then an extremely cheerful lady who would be our tour guide.
While she was very friendly, our guide was also very formal and constantly addressed us as “dear visitors”. We started in the massive outdoor courtyard and its many pillars.
We then walked into the main prayer hall. The entire mosque can accommodate 44,000 worshippers or nearly 1/2 of the entire city of Fujairah. The magnificent red carpet, made in Belgium, must be one of the largest in the world.
Before leaving we took the escalators to the basement to check out the enormous bathrooms and foot washing stations.
Although the mosque is impressive and everyone on the staff was friendly, it sure felt unnerving to be the ONLY tourists in this enormous building.
I do wonder what the mosque is like on a Friday. Oftentimes these big showpiece mosques don´t get many worshippers other than government officials, as people prefer to go to their local mosque.
It was now time to start our drive back to the Persian Gulf side of the UAE.
Fujairah is totally off the beaten path for tourists, but there were more than enough sights to keep us occupied for a day and night. The mosque and the coastal drive were the highlights.
There was nothing else of note to see in the city, but with more time, we would have driven to Hatta, a mountainous watersports destination, just an hour south.