From Bahla to Ibri is about 100 km. Not long after we left Bahla, I was surprised by drops of water on my front windshield. It is summer and you could still see the sun up there and here you were given something unusual. Those water drops were then followed by a sudden heavy rain. The rain lasted for only few minutes. But still we were stunned. It might have been 5 months since the last rain we experienced in Doha, and now at the peak of summer comes a heavy rain. Big enough to wash our car…
Rain stopped. External temperature as recorded by my car instrument rose (from 34 C during rain to 42 C). Soon after that, we passed an area – couldn’t recall – but it was a flat area; desert on the left side and flanks of mountain on the right side. It might be tens of kilometer before Ibri. We started to see clouds of sand at far. The oncoming vehicles passed us with headlights on and some with hazard light on. Sometimes they also honk on us. Do not know why.
And our curiosity answered when strong cross wind started to affect our car, and we drove with reduced visibility. And here it came a sandstorm. It all happened of a sudden in a matter of few minutes and lasted for 20 minutes or so. It was so horrifying that my 8-year old son crying for fear. The storm passed Ibri road on cross wind direction, engulfing, and spanking our car from the right side where my little boy was seating. We even decided to stop for couple minutes for safety reason as the visibility was almost zero. For all that short moment what we could do was praying and hoping that the storm hurrily passes. Alhamdulillah we were out of sandstorm safely and reached Ibri not long after. I do not know if the sandstorm is related to Ibri position in the foothills of the Hajar Mountains and the vast Rub Al Khali desert (Empty Quarter).
The town of Ibri is located in Ad Dhahira region in northeastern Oman. Although Ibri is not in the mainstream tourist map, it offers few attractions such as a bustling souk, ruins Al Sulaif and Ibri Fort. In addition, it might be used as a base to explore the nearby areas such as Bahla, Nizwa, Jebel Shams etc. (there are hotels in Ibri i.e. Ibri Oasis Hotel). Ibri is also home to Ibri College of Technology; from which I surprised from where students are withdrawn.
Ibri Fort coordinate: 23 14’11.0″N 56 30’20.5″E
Sulaif Ruins coordinate: 23 11’52.4″N 56 30’51.4″E
Ibri may have acquired its name from the Arabic root “a-b-r”, which conveys the connotation of “crossing” or “traversing”. Ibri today is known for its oil and gas fields – which provide one of the country’s main sources of income. The Wilayat of Ibri is also well-known for its ancient sites, including forts and towers as well as the ruinsa Bat – the second Omani site to be listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site after Bahla Fort in the Dakhiliyah Region.
Driving an hour from Ibri through PDO (Petroleum Development Oman) oil fields, you will arrive at the edge of the world – Rub Al Khali (the biggest desert in the world).
Road to Al Ain from Ibri is not as good as Muscat – Nizwa road. Route to Al Ain is using an old road. You can see that the opposite route is using a new road that is slightly higher than the old road. Perhaps to ensure traffic continuity should flood happen. You could also notice that several poles with warning installed in flood-prone areas, warns motorists to stop whenever water level reaches red mark on the pole.
The road is dual lane dual carriageway, has low traffic load and no speed camera, yet we decided not to drive more than 120 kph. It was a quite boring drive for monotonous scenery and straight easy road.
25 km before Al Ain city center lies UAE & Oman border in Mayzad area. The exit process from Oman was simple and merely takes few minutes. Not far, you will see UAE Immigration border. After spending about 1 hour 15 minutes in those two borders, we headed to Al Ain Mall where our friend – Prof Marden DeMoreib – has waited for us for travelling together to Fujairah.
Al Ain border Mayzad coordinate: 24 01’33.5″N 55 50’47.3″E
Although there are 3 alternatives from Al Ain to Fujairah (see “Itinerary & Distances”), they are all straightforward, nevertheless, that evening became our most nerve-racking moment for its border blues.
Al Ain Border Blues
As I said earlier, in the past residents of Al Ain and the adjacent Oman city, Buraymi, enjoyed an open border and free movement between cities. Not until Sep 206 where UAE Government required that every individuals to clear immigrations both for entering and leaving UAE. From UAE point of views, there are three borders in Al Ain: Hili border (north), Al Mudeef border and Mayzad/Hafeet border (south). Al Mudeef border is now open for GCC Nationals only, whereas Hili border is used for expatriates. I am not sure about the south border in Mayzad/Hafeet.
After having dinner in Al Ain Mall, we continued driving to Fujairah. Al Ain Mall is located south east of Al Mudeef border. From Al Ain Mall we should have driven to road E66 leading to Dubai by taking straight drive at roundabout near Al Mudeef border, instead we turned right at the border roundabout to enter Al Mudeef border (instructed by GPS based on its calculation that it was the faster route). We did not know that we would pass a GCC national border, leave Al Ain (and UAE) and enter Buraymi. My GPS route plans showed that we just needed to go straight after this border driving on a short Buraymi road section and enter road E66.
Then here are the dramas. After long queue in the border roundabout we entered border checkpoint gates areas. During queuing I saw that every driver in front of me showed something to the officer on the drive-in gate, not sure what it was. Confidently I passed the gate, open the window to show my family members, say assalamuaikum and driven pass through gate without being asked to show any identification! I and Marden managed to pass the gate and we were already at Buraymi that time but Taufiq left behind. Meanwhile we continued driving but blocked by Buraymi border fences along the street perimeter that prevented us to enter to feeding road leading to road E66 as instructed by GPS. We stopped for a minute to find another route by the time Taufiq called us and told that he was asked to make U-turn. He insisted to give a try to another gate. Not succeeded. He finally made U-turn and park on side road just after border roundabout. He explained that he gave up with passing the border and intended to go to Fujairah by himself. Both me and Marden convinced him to wait for us to leave Buraymi and enter Al Ain again.
Marden couldn’t manage to pass through the gate, in fact, he was directed to leave Buraymi through Hili border, which was he did not know how to go there. I could manage to pass and meet Taufiq and then with him monitored Marden’s situation on road side. After second attempt, Marden seems frustrated for failing passing through border despite my advice to practice my trick by talking to the officer that we are from Qatar but made mistake entering Buraymi when trying to go to Fujairah. Marden wanted us to pick him us which is not possible as by now the immigration might start disbelieving us. He even wanted to stay overnight in Buraymi. To make a long story short he managed to leave Buraymi through Hili border and met us there.
What a suspense moment! We wasted 2 hours for Al Ain border blues for stupid reasons. Here are some points:
– Do not follow GPS blindly. Double check with current map. Support with your previous research on the area particularly regarding borders. I have in fact UAE road map but I didn’t double check that. For sure this was my fault as a trip leader. Sorry guys! Otherwise we cannot take a lookback and remember how stupid we are at that point of time!!
– Had we not started from Al Ain Mall, say on the west side of border, we would not be in Al Ain border blues as I believe GPS would lead us directly to road E66 without any need to enter Buraymi border.
– Had I continued driving in Buraymi I might get lost for not be able to enter road E66 due to border fences.
Leaving Al Ain, we drove through road E66 to Dubai/Sharjah. At 54 after Al Ain km there is a turn off to Fujairah (with a clear signage but disappeared after Shwaib. This might lead you to loss a route). 35 km driving this road we arrived at Madam. Turn left can lead you to Dubai while turn right to Hatta. We can actually take a road to Hatta for Fujairah but we don’t want to be bother with border (Note: to reach Hatta from Madam you will actually cross 20-km or so Oman areas but there is no formal border. It is said that only ID checking is conducted).
We continued straight from Madam to Al Dhaid for 47 km through road E55. In Al Dhaid we turned right to Fujairah passing the town of Ajman (+14km) and Masafi (+31km). Driving at night did not guarantee a smooth driving as we need to compete with heavy traffic of trucks that taking advantages of allowed night driving only.
Pass midnight, or may be early morning (circa 1 AM) we arrived at Hilton Fujairah Hotel Resort. Thanks to Hilton for easing us with very quick check-in knowing we badly need a rest after long driving, suspense border blues moment and horrifying sandstorm. Good night Fujairah.