Feed on

Note: this post is a little late. Internet problems last night. Sigh.

We awoke this morning in Gulf of Oman to a slightly hazy but sunny sky. We had a continental breakfast and our morning coffee delivered to the cabin. We happily watched the ship sail into the port of Fujairah, which is on the eastern coast of the UAE.

I’d read little about Fujairah prior to our visit (as only scant information was available) and most of what I had seen was fairly negative (I seem to recall a cruisecitic.com article that listed it among the worst ports in the world to visit). I know that when we’d considered entirely driving throughout the UAE, there was what seemed like a very nice Meridian Resort and Spa on offer in the area at a decent rate. But, even the Lonely Planet guidebook provided few insights and suggestions.

We’d considered an organized shore excursion. But, the ones on offer didn’t really appeal.

Thus, we found ourselves—with no positive expectations—heading to downtown Fujairah on the complimentary shuttle bus. We were deposited in front of the “LuLu Hypermarket,” which appeared to be the local equivalent of a Wal-Mart SuperCenter or SuperTarget (combination retail / grocery store). Lacking no other defined plans, we browsed through there briefly, which confirmed the influence of globalization on consumer demands (from flat screen televisions to “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” toys). Indeed, the only obvious differences to US-based stores were sections selling traditional Arabic and Asian subcontinent garments (alongside Western alternatives).

After leaving LuLu, we arranged for a taxi to take us on a private tour of the area. We agreed to visit the Fujairah Fort and some place called the Al Hayl Palace (which we’d never heard of). Our driver—a young guy who we think might have been from Bangladesh—spoke little English, smelled a bit like a mixture of sweat and curry, and was exceedingly kind. The recently restored Fujairah Fort, which overlooks the city’s (also semi-restored) old village and date-palm oasis, was modestly in scale. The Fujairah Museum—an unplanned visit at the direction of our driver—was humble but delightful! It depicted a mix of historical artifacts and representations (as well as some inexplicable items, such as official Fujairah coins depicting Richard Nixon!). But, it primarily focused on traditional Bedouin life. We actually found it very helpful in better understanding the cultural norms, such as the practical necessity for hospitality (which we’ve consistently experienced during our visit).

Fujairah Fort

Fujairah Fort

Fujairah Museum

Fujairah Museum -- 'Guest Room'

After the museum, we drove 15 minutes or so outside of Fujairah into the Hajar Mountains. The road twisted along a wadi (dry river bed / valley) that was filled with date palms. After passing through what could only be described as “rugged terrain,” we reached Al Hayl Palace. Here we met Imir, a local guide, who proceeded to show us around the palace compound.

The palace dates from the 1830s. However, Buckingham or Whitehall it is not. Having seen the old village by the Fujairah Fort, we could appreciate the relative opulence and enhanced fortifications of this outpost. And, set against the mountainous backdrop and being surrounded by the date palm-filled wadi, the palace had a sort of rugged beauty and seemed very much in harmony with its surroundings—much like native dwellings out West back in the United States.

Al Hayl Palace

Al Hayl Palace

Yet, while neither the location nor the architecture made the visit especially memorable, Imir made it a visit that we’ll never forget. He was extremely good natured and genuinely interested in explaining his culture and homeland to us. Sadly, while we were dressed very respectfully in Western attire, not all of our shipmates got the memo. In particular there was a group of older British women dressed in short skirts and spaghetti strap tops. Bad enough in itself, it was made markedly worse watching them try to climb over, under, and around the dwellings. At one point, one of the aging tarts from Last of the Summer Wine bent over and her sagging tatas all but completely flopped out of her top. Poor Imir nearly passed out! He quickly averted his eyes and started mumbling what sounded like a prayer. I don’t speak Arabic so I can only imagine what he was actually saying (I think something suitable would have been like “Dear Lord, I’m sorry. I tried to avert my eyes. But, honestly, you must have a sense of humor if that’s what sent to ‘tempt’ me.”). I am certain that he was genuinely embarrassed by the whole situation. On the one hand, it was kind of comical to watch as a disinterested third party. But, on the other hand, Libby and I genuinely empathized with Imir. Indeed, we were both ashamed by the lack of respect displayed by many of our Western compatriots and glad that we comported ourselves well. Frankly, the UAE demands little of Western visitors (notice: nobody said a word to these ladies). But, as guests to their home, we should show at least a modicum of respect, as we’d expect in return. In other words, just put on some damn pants and a shirt with sleeves!

I don’t mean to sound preachy (ok, I suppose that I do), but really here’s the deal: the people here—much like the people everywhere else we’ve been—are not like the caricatures that we imagine them to be. Indeed, as humans, we’re fundamentally more the same than different. It’s not like I didn’t understand this intellectually already, but there’s tremendous value in putting your rear-end into an airplane seat and coming to ‘know’ this first hand. I’m glad to have met Imir. And, as he was waving goodbye to us, I could only hope that he’ll go home today and say (in Arabic) something like “Guess what? I met this very nice couple from America today…”

I could write about tonight’s good dinner at Portofino and the so-so production show that followed. But, honestly, that would be anti-climactic. Instead, I’ll end simply this way:

Fujairah – one of the best ports-of-call ever. Who knew?

Today’s box score: +1 country (Fujairah, UAE)

One Response to “Cruise Day #2 – Fujairah, UAE”

  1. Dad says:

    Dear Paul,

    As usual I am following your trip and attempting to follow on the maps I have on hand. Fujairha sounds as though it is small in area, but certainly not small in hospitality. We folks in the United States get so many views of the Middle East through our news programs. Usually, the perspective we get is just the meat and potatoes, the headlines of the day. How nice to get a report that includes the dessert. What a good guide you had! How gracious his attitude!

    Avidly reading,


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