First, the dive logs
I'm writing this in the car on a long journey home from Khor Fakkan. We were there diving with Scuba 2000 run by old friend and sometimes border policeman Hassan, whom we know from long ago as owner of a dive shop we used to use repeatedly many years ago. We stopped only because our interests pointed north to Musandam, but difficulties crossing into Oman caught up with me the past 6 weeks so I've been prevented going there. Accordingly I discovered some very nice dive outfits south of the border, Blue Planet Divers where we were two weeks ago, and now a return to Scuba 2000, which is just as restful as it always was.
The five hour drive gave me plenty of time to log our dives. We were joined late yesterday evening by David Muirhead and Peter Trollope, both friends from Al Ain. We had nightcaps at Scuba 2000 and went to bed, to be joined next morning by two big-camera guys we knew from Nomad, Michel and Chris just driven down from Dubai.
We were told Michel and Chris were hoping to do a deep dive on the Inchcape 1, the one near Aqa'a beach, a 30 meter challenge for advanced open water student divers, but too redundant for their instructors. Fortunately there was an Inchcape 2 sunk to make a dive site at 22 meters near Martini Rock, off the newly expanded KF port. This dive is similar in scale and in sea critters to the almost identical wreck to the north, but not so deep, and so we had the possibility of combining it with a fin along the bottom to the shore. Michel and Chris were ok with that, and we let them choose the second dive site.
The dive on the wreck was quite nice. Sea life seems to be bouncing back all along the coast after the double whammy several years ago of cyclone Gonu and the 6 month red tide, plus as in the case of the sites of Khor Fakkan, the silting from all the harbor works, and over-diving by people who on YouTube can be seen cutting off coral souvenirs on Martini Rock and stuffing them in their BCD pockets. So we weren't sure what to expect, which is nice when what you find exceeds expectations.
On these wrecks I always like to drop to the sand and see what's under the nose, stern, and gunwales. The Inchcape 2 lies in a NW/SE direction with its nose in the NW position. It's tilting toward the SW so on the NE edge animals can get under the edge that's slightly off the bottom. Here we found interesting creatures, in one tableau a pair of small crocodile fish in the sand and a pair of green morays just behind them, lion fish decorating the way in, and scorpion fish sitting unobtrusively in the sand just outside the wreck. Rounding the bow at the NW we found more morays and scorpion fish, and so it went as we circled to the stern and came up to the deck, where there were nudibranchs, snails with glistening smooth mottled shells, fine glass shrimp in the tires, more morays, and huge puffer fish lurking in the companionways.
About 25 min into the dive with still 150 bar in our tanks, Dave, Peter, and Bobbi and I finned across the sand where I had told everyone to be on the lookout for jaw fish, what David calls whop-a-moles. We had failed to see them since Gonu and the red tide, so Bobbi and I didn't have great expectations, and when we came in site of the rock wall, and went back to look for them, we didn't go far enough back. But David and Peter had seen more than one, and we were glad to hear they were there since they were a plus feature of our Inchcape 2 dives.
We ended in the rocks on the wall, heading into the shallows after an hour diving. It was comfortable diving with more nudibranchs, scorpion fish and morays, including one balled up in the sand looking almost like a snake that poked out its head and almost hissed at us as slithered under a rock, and and we ended by coming on a flounder which only ruffled its fins when I scratched it no matter how close I got with my GoPro.
Back on the boat we noticed it was December by the chill wind while we searched for sunbeams to warm us up. We chilled for an hour and then went to Sharq island for a dive that, if you start on the south side, can be done either wall on your right or wall on your left. We planned wall-on-the-right but when we went down about 9 meters, we all headed out wall-on-our-left to get more depth than that. At some point passing 10 meters I noticed David and Peter heading up the reef to head back the planned way, but Bobbi and I were beckoned by the clarity of vis at depth and the shoals of snappers schooling there, not to mention the prospect of finding rays in the sand (no such luck). Heading north into the sand at the end of the reef we found more rocks appear in the gloom ahead, and perched at the top of one of those was a honeycomb moray who left his perch and rippled along the reef looking for shelter, putting on a great performance for our cameras in the process.
On the way back we crossed paths with Michel and Chris who had also opted to dive that way, but we never caught up with David and Peter who made it all the way to the staghorn coral and found turtles there. Bobbi and I almost made it that far but we ascended at the end of the hour after some entertainment by a family of clown fish rather than keep people waiting. All in all we had two enjoyable dives in compatible company.
Now, the drive logs
It takes us less than 3 hours to get from Al Ain to Dibba, but another half hour to go from there to Badiyah, known for the oldest mosque in the UAE and lit up in National Day splendor the night we arrived. Hassan's place is just off the roundabout just before there (it was a new roundabout, which was how we missed it and continued on to the mosque that night). Hassan's place is on the beach down a packed sand road at the far right of the beach from town. When we went there we found a film crew just wrapping up for the day. They had been to Sharq Island and were finishing the day with a feast catered by Hassan's restaurant. They had left a lot of food and we were invited to tuck in. That, free wifi, and a comfortable bed for the night made us happy campers when we finally got to sleep.
But as I'm writing this we've been 4 hours on the road coming back from there and we haven't even reached Madan yet. It's been maddening. We were leaving Scuba 2000 just after 3:00 after a couple of fine and hassle-free dives, and were heading the way home we know, the one that gets us there in 3.5 hours, a little more distant than the direct way, going 120 to 140 kph most of the way, when we noticed our GPS was telling us the best way home was the opposite way. It had been a long time since we'd been south from KF on the coast, so we decided to try it. Right away we hit small towns, a traffic jam just past KF where a national day parade passed with flag bedecked elders on foot and a platoon of highnesses on horseback, and the tedious stretch along the oil storage zone into Fujaira. There we found we were being routed via the Fujairah way back up to Masafi and into Dhaid, Madan, and Shuwaib, a way we normally do not like to go.
So I thought we should try the new road to Wadi al Helo with its tunnels which I recalled took us near to Al Ain. The only trouble was it was almost to the Oman border south of Fujairah, past Kalba on the coast, and inland from there, so it was almost 4:30 when we reached the start of the road, an hour south of where we'd turned around north of Badiyah. Then we found the speed limits to be unnecessarily low, no more than 60 km, and 40 km in the long uphill stretches (giving out to 80 km entering the tunnels, go figgah??). We followed our GPS up winding roads between mountains as the sun set, 60 km speed limits the norm, and lots of speed bumps in the tiny hamlets. It was dark when we emerged from there onto a 120 kph stretch that went through a chain of built up towns – why ridiculously slow speeds on the 4 lane mountain roads, and equally ridiculous fast speeds where no telling who might be crossing the road or pulling out into it and where? We whizzed along until well after 6 pm we came unexpectedly on a border checkpoint.
We would need at least an exit visa here. This was the small stretch of road crossing Oman territory from Hatta to Madan. Before, we used to drive it unhindered, but now there were checkpoints with tailbacks we were stuck in until just short of the border where we found a u-turn and managed to extract ourselves and head back the opposite direction. We drove all the way down to Hatta looking for a way home and asked at the guard at the gate at the Hatta Fort Hotel for advice. He said 6 km back there was a road for Sharjah-Kalba, we should take that.
This road was so new it didn't show on our GPS, and though it was new, 4 lanes, and empty, its speed limit was huh?? 60 km !!? We could see from our GPS that it was taking us north around where the Oman border bulged into UAE. I guess it was built to give people an alternative to having to drive the much shorter way through the two border posts.
We crawled, compared to going the 120 we were accustomed to, around the bulge and picked up other roads taking us to the Dhaid-Madan road. Once we reached that we at least knew where we were, and by 7:30, four hours after turning around at Aqa'a just north from Bidaya, we were in Madan and heading home the familiar way, at speeds of 60, 80, and finally 100 km per hour.
I finished writing this as we were pulling into our neighborhood in Al Ain at around 8:30, 5 long hours on the road driving home. :-(