Hitchhikers Guide to the UAE
I approach Khatm al-Shiklah on foot, walking the mile and a half from the bus station, as no one will stop for a midnight hitchhiker and not a single cab passes by. This is the boonies. I’m in the deserted no-man’s land north of Al-Buraimi, after being stamped out of Oman at the city limits. In the time it takes to get from the bus stop to the border, the desert grows pitch black and only the occasional headlights and the beacon to Khatm Al-Shiklah are there to guide me. When I arrive I get stamped out at the border with ease. No one looks at me funny for crossing on foot after sundown. I bet they get a few madmen like me a night.
That said, it may be crazy to walk down the Arabian desert highway at night, but you’d have to be suicidal to do it in the daytime. With my complexion, I’d be reduced to a pink-colored rawhide in minutes. No thanks. I’ll take my chances alone in the desert with the dust and the stars and the cool dry air. If I had a sleeping bag, believe me I’d set up camp right here.
But alas I make the border and cross without difficulty. I flag down a potato-hauling trucker who agrees to drop me five miles down the road at Al Ain Mall, where I assure myself there’s a Big Mac with my name on it. I shoot a text to my friend Natalie who’s been putting me up in Al-Ain and tell her I’ll be at her place in an hour or so.
I receive a response:
“I have no electric or water, mate... I’m not staying in the apartment.”
The truck driver says he’s going all the way to Dubai. I tell him I’ll be joining him the rest of the way if I can; he seems surprised by my instantaneous change in plans. He acts grateful for the company, though, and we are on our way. Truck drivers have to drive half as fast as regular drivers here, so with him the journey proves to be much longer than the short hour-and-change it took Natalie and I to make the same trek. But I don’t mind. Of the limited hitchhiking experience I’ve had, this will likely prove not just to be the longest, but the best. Changing plans in a split second and going to a different city than initially intended is part of the whole deal. I’m a drifter. This is, like, my thing.
After the driver prays quickly at a mosque outside Al Ain we start our transnavigation of the UAE from the border to Dubai. There’s nothing out here, so every exit is marked Al Ain and it feels like we aren’t getting anywhere, only somehow getting closer to where we came from. Not to mention we keep stopping, first for tea and pastries and then for gas. My new friend actually buys me a tea and pastry and we talk on and off for the remainder of the drive. He is from Kerala and has three daughters and a wife there. When I get out at the metro, I give him the rest of my Omani Riyals (because he’s the only person I know going to Oman any time soon) and he refuses until I tell him the money is worthless to me. He finally accepts and agrees to take a photo with me before I jump out and run to the next metro train to Jumeirah, where a couch and a burrito await me like the very salvation of my soul as my dear friend Christina lay asleep.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.