Set sail on an Abu Dhabi journey of discovery
ABU DHABI // Sitting confidently in a traditional pearling dhow, Ali Al Saloom looked resplendent in a kandura and gutra, an impressive Emirati ambassador for the country he loves so much.
"Yallah," he yelled, and so began the Abu Dhabi Pearl Journey, a new tourism and heritage project he helped to envision.
"I spent the past seven years providing knowledge and content about Emirati culture and history," said Mr Al Saloom, a columnist for The National. "I tried many different ways to bridge the cultural gap in very authentic and unique ways."
The idea for the Journey, an educational boat tour, came during a visit to a school to speak about UAE history. One of the children asked: "Have you ever seen a real pearl?"
"I'd never got this question," Mr Al Saloom said. "For the first time, I was stuck. I didn't lie but I told him, 'you know what? I will, very soon'."
Mr Al Saloom began looking at ways of teaching people about the history of pearling because "culture shouldn't be captured in a museum". And so he came up with Abu Dhabi Pearl Journey.
On a recent weekday trip, which leaves from the marina at the Intercontinental hotel, visitors sat in the dhow's majlis-style seating area, called a jalboot, as it set sail, passing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Etihad Towers.
Shaima Al Habsi, who works at Masdar, said Mr Al Saloom captivated listeners with his storytelling. "It was a journey through heritage," she said.
As the sun set, it was time for the participants to look into oyster shells and see if they contained a pearl.
"After [our forefathers] collected the seashells, they would gather in the front area of the jalboot to open them, search for the pearls inside and then they go to the Tawash [pearl trader] to sell them," he said.
Ahmed Al Hashimi, a manager at Etihad Rail, was fascinated by the formation of a pearl. "I could never imagine the pearl coming out of seashell. It was different when I witnessed it," he said.
Mr Al Hashimi said the excursion highlighted the difficult life his forefathers endured without any technology. There was a nostalgic feeling attached to his journey.
"It took me 45 minutes to learn about the history of pearling, while it took our ancestors more than 45 days to make some income out of their diving," he said.
There are 12 to 13 types of pearls in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf is the only body of water that offers more than 30 different colours of pearls, Mr Al Saloom said.
Salma Omar, from the Goethe Institute, described the trip as "breathtaking". "It was amazing, I wish it was longer though," she said.
The Abu Dhabi Pearl Journey launched two months ago. The jalboot can take 15 passengers, and 45-minute tours are available from 9am to 10pm. It costs Dh500 for adults and Dh450 for children under 12.
"Most of the expats who come use it as an opportunity to ask questions such as 'what is the kandura?'," Mr Al Saloom said. "Throughout the journey we are sharing knowledge and everybody has a pearl."