x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Time Frame: The E11's humble beginnings

This photo taken by Alain Saint-Hilaire in 1975 shows the new two-lane road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the first incarnation of the E11 motorway.

The road, two lanes in each direction, also lacked lighting and fencing, increasing the likelihood of a night-time collision with a roaming ungulate. Courtesy Alain Saint-Hilaire
The road, two lanes in each direction, also lacked lighting and fencing, increasing the likelihood of a night-time collision with a roaming ungulate. Courtesy Alain Saint-Hilaire

Many were the hazards on the road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai when this photograph was taken by Alain Saint-Hilaire in 1975. Wandering camels and livestock, as the warning signs charmingly illustrate, were just two of them. The road, two lanes in each direction, also lacked lighting and fencing, increasing the likelihood of a night-time collision with a roaming ungulate.

Then, as now, other motorists represented the biggest challenge to arriving in one piece. Seat belts back then were not such much optional as largely non-existent, especially for passengers relegated to the bed of a Toyota pickup truck. Yet this first incarnation of the E11 motorway was a huge improvement over inter-emirate transportation only a few years earlier.

Before 1971, when construction of the road began, vehicles had to follow a series of broad tracks across the desert.

The journey was slow and uncomfortable and took most of the day. Running out of petrol or water or literally going off the beaten track could result in death, especially in the scorching summer months. Winter brought a new danger, of bogging down in sabhka, the salt flats along the coast that turned to a sticky paste after any rain.

Two lanes of tarmac placed almost all the tribulations of earlier travellers firmly in the past. The camels, though, may have felt differently.

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Readers are invited to make contributions to yourpics@thenational.ae