Contemplate how much you really walk in this city. Forget dashing from one taxi to the next or pounding the tiles of Ibn Battuta Mall in a desperate, sweaty attempt to find Geant. That isn’t walking.
Where can you wander through somewhere that’s completely natural (rather than irrigation-fed parkland) and that isn’t teeming with traffic and people? It’s a gripe that so many who come to Dubai share, and one that I find particularly worrying. Without any real scope for wandering through the city, the chances for a pleasant, mind-liberating stroll are, sadly, few and far between.
With that in mind, I went in search of something to get my legs moving and settled on Wadi Wurrayah in the mountains surrounding Dibba. Meaning ‘Wadi of Reeds’, Wadi Wurrayah has become a popular spot for raucous groups to head up to in 4x4s, unload huge feasts and then, for unknown reasons, scrawl such illuminating titbits as ‘Lucy loves Radneen’ on the rocks. Before the trip, we had been worried we’d find a vast, murky casualty of modern disregard; we’d heard stories of the swathes of rubbish strewn around the entrance to the wadi and expected the worst.
But as we drive up to the wadi with Paul Oliver of Absolute Adventure and his Omani guide Almoor, Paul explains that recent heavy rain should have flushed the wadi through. I ask what a Wadi is, exactly? ‘It’s a dry riverbed,’ he explains. ‘The rains that fall in the mountains collect into these riverbeds at the bottom of the valley. From there they snake down through the mountains.’ Paul tells us that the wadi is getting ever closer to being a fully protected, WWF-monitored area, now only waiting for final approval from the Fujairah authorities. ‘The wadi is home to the tahr, an endangered mountain goat with thick, long horns similar to an antelope. We keep our eyes out for it. But we often see some snakes – a few wadi racers, vipers – and there’s a cave deep in the wadi that’s usually packed with bats.’
As we drive up to the entrance of the wadi, the signs of recent frolicking are clear. Plastic bags flap from potholes in the ground, discarded barbecues and even a ritually assembled stack of gnawed chicken bones sits ominously on a rock. ‘It’s much cleaner deeper into the wadi,’ Paul assures us as we scramble down to the riverbed.
Soon we’re setting a good pace, the cavernous brown walls of the wadi looming over us. The sound of running water starts to filter into the silence and we approach a pool, shaded by a grey arch, with a healthy looking cascade of water running behind it. ‘This is the UAE’s highest perennial waterfall,’ says Paul as we watch the tiny fish darting around beneath the water. Again, the rocks have seen the worst effects of rampant scribblers, great scrawls of neon Arabic shine off the walls of this little harmonious oasis. But, unperturbed, we head deeper into the wadi, which has enough water and narrow passages to keep out the picnic tribe.
Before long, the traces of humanity are far gone, and we’re scrabbling over rocks, wading in the cool, slow-running water and keeping our eyes out for vipers. The scrambling becomes tougher and, while our guide Almoor has no problem slipping his sandals off and leaping deftly from rock to rock, there are plenty of indecorous grunts from the rest of us.
But it is satisfying walking. We trek up the riverbed in relaxed concentration, looking up from the rocks occasionally to see green reeds glimpsed with the late morning sun. The whole wadi, despite the slew of rubbish at the start, has a refreshing lushness about it that anyone who has long missed a truly natural landscape will find a relief.
The day pushes on and, as we reach the midday heat reaches its high point, we come across a small, sun-starved pool – chilled by a constant stream of water – this deep pool is icy enough to take your breath away. I can’t remember the last time that I felt this cold.
After lunch we head back, enjoying the blissful trance of walking. The group falls silent, surrounded by the immensity of the wadi, each with their own pleasantly drifting thoughts. It’s the kind of peace that comes with wandering and, as we get back to the waterfall, I can’t help but feel antipathy to the synth sounds booming from an approaching 4x4 laden with picnics.
But the signs look good for the wadi. Once the WWF-approved scheme is in place the area will be protected by rangers who can educate revellers as to why scribbling your name all over the rocks just isn’t acceptable. Right now some of the Wadi is scarred by their effects, but delve further into this natural network of riverbeds, fast running streams and languid reeds – and Dubai couldn’t feel further away.
The Wadi Wurrayah trek is a four hour roundtrip and leaves from the Absolute Adventure centre in Dibba and is Dhs350 per person. Call 04 345 9900 or see www.adventure.ae for more trekking options.