x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Whether islands or mountain villages, the UAE offers a lot

Exploration should begin with your own neighbourhood, writes Rym Ghazal.

An Arabic proverb has it that “who lives see, who travels see more”. Every trip, if truly absorbed, makes one wiser or more cultured. Whether it is just around the corner, to a different emirate or to a different country, one learns something new and forms new memories that help pepper up one’s life.

This week, Graham Hughes, a 34-year-old man from Liverpool, became the first person to travel to every country on the planet without taking a plane. It took him four years to do so and he posted short clips of him in each of his 201 destinations on a YouTube video. That took a lot of dedication and planning. Mr Hughes can now claim to be part of the elite group of world explorers.

I have always been fascinated by the desert, and while I have explored most of the Arab world and its deserts, I wish I could have gone back in time to see what European and British travellers like Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003) saw as he explored the Empty Quarter and Bedouin life back then; or like the famous Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta (1304-1369) who took up various jobs along the way to complete his adventure.

I would have loved to travel by their side or have started my own journey. But what often happens is that while we try to explore new places and famous sites, we take the place in which we live for granted.

Recently, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, spoke at the Federal National Council and encouraged Emiratis to explore their own country and gain a better and deeper understanding of the historic and natural beauty each of the seven emirates has to offer.

I have visited all the emirates and discovered gems in each and every one of them. Whether it is a village on the mountains with its last pottery maker, a desert village where women still weave and make furniture out of palm trees, to coastal villages of fishermen that have piles of stories to share as much as they have fish. They even tell stories about fish and their characters as well as the different storms they have encountered. Who needs Sinbad when you have these amazing old fishermen and pearl divers waiting for someone to listen to their stories?

There are so many beautiful natural spots, and if you are lucky, you get to see some of the animals and birds. I saw a group of dancing goats once around a Ghaf tree, and another time I saw a falcon flying over Sheikh Khalifa Bridge.

Look around and see how much you have seen and what you have been missing out on. It is only when someone is visiting you, you start wondering where you should take them and asking around for the best spots for tourists.

Besides the obvious towers and malls, there are the old souqs that are always bustling, full of life and character, with older men selling there. It is worth stopping and chatting. Spending a day travelling on a dhow, a bus, the metro and even a seaplane will show you different sides to the UAE. I always try to take visitors to some of the islands – just getting there is a unique experience. One can try the more luxurious Sir Bani Yas resort with its animals and beautiful nature and archaeology, or the simpler and quieter Delma Island, and meet some of the elders on the island.

I know that when I have sent photos from the beaches here, people have thought I was in some exotic place in Asia, when in reality I had just strolled over to the public beach in Dubai. All the public beaches have a different character, and that is worth exploring as well.

With the weather so beautiful these days, simply walking about the old parts of the country is a great treat and adventure in itself. I know I always find some kind of antique, with a little story behind it.

Exploration should begin with your own neighbourhood and then you should just keep exploring beyond. There are so many books on places to visit before one dies, so we might as well begin with the place we call home.

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @Arabianmau