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Friday, September 26, 2014

The Trip to Liwa Starts in Oregon...

At least for me.

Oregon was the first vacation that John and I took together as a couple. I remember going out to the sporting goods store wondering if it was a strange for a gal to be purchasing rain gear for her first romantic getaway with her guy. We were going to drive along the Oregon Coast and this included a visit to one of the region’s rain forests.

The trip was fantastic and it’s high on my list for people looking to do a scenic, even romantic, road trip, but one of the most memorable stories from that trip was my search for that rain forest.  On the day that we were to visit, we drove and the rain showers picked up. Then the showers turned to steady, if not heavy, rain. And the trees grew larger and the canopies thicker.

With my focus on the destination (and not the journey), I wondered aloud where this damn rain forest could be. Searching on the map for some sort of ‘entrance,’ I finally made John pull over at a visitor center and asked the volunteer on duty how to get to the rain forest.

He looked at me like I had three heads.

“You want to know how to get to the rainforest?”

“Yes,” I said, shaking the map.

The gentleman shrugged.

“You’re in it.”

I just didn’t get it. I wanted an entrance, something official to mark this rainforest that everyone was talking about. (Or that I was talking about.) 

When we got to a small piece of National Park land, I was finally satisfied, if not somewhat embarrassed. That’s because the trees and the rain and the landscape were just as beautiful, and just the same, inside the park as they were outside…

And that’s what it’s like going to Liwa.

Excuse me, is this the entrance to the Oasis?
When John suggested we take a weekend trip to the Liwa Oasis, I envisioned driving down the road that cut through the desert, reaching a gated park where we would pay our entry fees, be reminded to check out the gift shop and then stroll through a cool and shaded oasis that would have some water, a camel and a palm tree or two…

Have I learned nothing?

In fact, the Liwa Oasis is GIGANTIC. It’s sixty miles wide and is home to nearly 50 villages (one called Liwa) with a spread out population of over 20,000 inhabitants.


Liwa Oasis
Even more mind-blowing, the Liwa Oasis sits next to the Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world. This massive moonscape of desert dunes is about 250,000 sq. miles (apparently that’s similar to France, Belgium and the Netherlands combined) and extends from the UAE through Saudi Arabia and into Yemen and Oman.

There isn’t much to do in Liwa beyond driving along the road which borders the oasis and driving into the dunes of the Empty Quarter, and I guess that's pretty much the whole point. 

The sand dunes from the Empty Quarter creep onto the roadway.

Did I mention it's only about 120 degrees out? But it's a dry 120...
This is not the tallest dune in the UAE, but it sure looks big.

Driving out to the Empty Quarter. Look guys, no traffic!
That said, it is a must to drive out to the massive dunes that lead to Moreeb Dune, the tallest dune in the UAE. There is also the gob-smacking Qasr Al Sarab Resort to check out (I’ll be requesting a stay there for a birthday or anniversary at some point!). The peak times of travel to Liwa are during the date palm festivals, the camel races, and during the camel beauty contest (Yes, that’s right, the Camel Beauty Contest). 

We stayed at the Tilal Liwa Hotel which is a nice property with a lovely pool in a great location for camel activities, but not so much for views of the Empty Quarter and checking out the town of Liwa. That's because it’s about 25 minutes north of Liwa toward Abu Dhabi so you’re not really in the heart of the dune/oasis divide. That said, lovely room, nice restaurant, kind staff.

During our visit we were days away from the end of Ramadan and we saw lots of big SUVs with luggage on top of vehicles coming from Saudi Arabia to celebrate Eid. Using the pool area was a young family from Saudi Arabia consisting of mostly young women.  Me in my ‘modest’ tankini and they in their ‘modest’ swimwear (imagine a lycra abaya, and yes, they call it a burqini), it was the youngest girl’s look that told the tale… she stared at me in my strange swimwear without hesitation and in the water we all sort of carefully avoided each other. It wasn’t that they had a huge problem with my swim costume, but I think they were as uncomfortable (or curious) with what I was wearing as I was with their get-ups. (Since then I’ve invested in a few beach cover-ups to avoid any similar situations where I might be viewed as immodest or just a bit out of the norm).

So, why did the trip to Liwa start in Oregon? Well, without that first successful road trip with John, I’d never be on this wild journey to places like Liwa. (So thanks, my love!)

I’ll be heading back to Liwa in coming weeks and look forward to the experience of communing more closely with the desert. More on that as in coming days, but for now here’s a video from the Camel Beauty Contest! 


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