I’ve been through the desert on a bike with no name… it felt good to be out of the rain!

Al Qudra Cycle Track U.A.E.

On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound

I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain

“A Horse with No Name’ courtesy of Dewey Bunnell, America

We are just back home from a visit to our youngest, Ronan, and his wonderful fiancee Hannah in Dubai last week. It was our first visit out and it was so much more than we could have wished for! It was a marvellous week and we built in a lot of sightseeing, walking and cycling.

Yes Dubai is a tourist Mecca, with a skyline to outshine Manhattan, but it also mixes the old and the new. Part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it is one of the most westernised societies in the Middle East – not sure that is a recommendation though! I much preferred their promotion of their own culture, hospitality and their pride in their place in the Arab and Islamic world.

It was marvellous to go out and visit Ronan and Hannah; we take it for granted that they are doing fine but nothing beats family and the importance of those ties was reinforced over our visit. They really looked after us and it is heartening to see their interest in being active and interested in the culture of the country in which they are making their living, while still obviously very much tied to their roots on the glorious Emerald Isle of ours!

The highlights of this trip for me were the walks, the cycles and the sightseeing; you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy yourself and to broaden your horizons.

It’s hard to believe it is a week since we had an incredible cycling experience in the Al Qudra desert, cycling on the 50kms Al Qudra cycling track. Such a contrast to cycling here at home! The day time temperature was 33 degrees and we planned our cycle for the evening, starting in daylight and finishing under the desert night sky.

With 50kms to cover and no towns or villages on the route, it meant carrying a lot of water. I was parched after a few hundred metres but quickly adapted. The route itself is tarmac, in excellent condition but what a strange environment; sand dunes and a scorching sun overhead, silence… but with eyes peeled looking for Arabian sand antelopes and a longed for sighting to the endangered Arabian Oryx. ‘Inshalla’, we might catch a glimpse – and we did!

The Arabian Oryx is the first ever example of an animal that has been successfully reintroduced into its original habitat after being declared extinct in the wild.
The only one of the four oryx species to occur outside Africa, the Arabian oryx inhabits sandy and stony deserts and is supremely well adapted to this hostile environment.
Its bright white coat reflects the sun’s harsh rays, while splayed hooves allow it to negotiate the sandy terrain more easily. It can survive for extended periods without a direct water source and is capable of travelling vast distances in search of new growth.
Arabian oryx are active mainly around dawn and dusk, and tend to rest in the shade during the heat of the day. They dig with their hooves to create a bed of cooler sand in which to lie.

We saw small herds of the Arabian Sand Antelope but the closest we got to any was unfortunately to a dead one on the side of the track..

Night comes to the desert all at once, as if someone turned off the light.

Joyce Carol Oates

I’ve always been fascinated by the desert; perhaps it was childhood tales of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor and Arabian Nights; stories about the nomads and the camel – the fabled ship of the desert… so it was a great experience to be out there among the shifting sand dunes and the burning sun.

Magic of the shadows. can best be seen in the deserts

Mehmet Murat Ildan

The route was relatively easy when we completed it – there was little wind, the heat was dissipating as evening approached and conditions were perfect.

The Desert Fathers were early Christian hermits and ascetics who lived in the Egyptian desert. They were a source of huge inspiration for Irish Saints, in the 5th and 6th centuries, who sought out remote locations to live similar lives – none more remote than the Skelligs, and there are many Irish place names that feature the word Díseart – desert in English. There is one close enough to Carlow – Díseart Diarmada (Castledermot). One of our great saints and a Carlow man, Columbanus set out as a wandering Irish Perigini in Continental Europe. Ronan and I cycled from Canterbury to his tomb in Bobbio, Italy in 2010 on our way to Rome. Funny the connections you can make but they resonate with me.

The desert does not mean the absence of men but the presence of God.

Carlo Carretto

There is something magnetic about the pull of the desert; it’s primal, it’s harsh, it’s a place to empty your head. Certainly the vastness, the barreness, the solitude has an attraction especially in today’s busy non stop world. A welcome break from the traffic of Dubai!

There are a small few shelters to get a break from the constant sun – but bring your own water as there is none!

‘Tis a long road that has no turning….

It was amazing how quickly the sun dropped from the sky; we were racing to the shelter to take a photo of the sunset but it happened so fast we had no chance!

Definitely one of the highlights of the trip; others being visits to the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque, the Emirates Palace and Qatar Al Watan. But that’s for another post!

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