Ascending the Moreeb Staircase (Liwa, UAE)

My late father used to tell me, “Gina, you work out as if it were a religion”. Being physically nimble/agile, fit, and healthy has always been of paramount importance to me, having competed in contact sports since the age of 12 and having grown up with eight brothers who were fiercely competitive. Hence, finding a vacation spot that provides equal doses of respite and physical activity is an essential component of my travels. I was blithely content to find out that the near Western Region of Abu Dhabi provides ample opportunities for those who are judicious about their health and well-being as well as their “peace of mind”.

The myriads of undulating sand dunes that coat the desert plains are indeed the magnetic allure of the Western Region of the United Arab Emirates.

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About 100 km (a 60 minute drive) outside of Abu Dhabi city lay one of the tallest sand dunes in the world- Moreeb Sand Dune, appropriately referred to as “Scary Mountain” by locals and unsuspecting tourists alike.

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Perched at approximately 260 meters above sea level and sloping at an angle of 50 degrees, Moreeb Sand Dune would make any “average Joe” cower.

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Yet, for those looking to take on an extra challenge and for those looking to demonstrate their athletic prowess, simply strap on a hip sack (also known as a fanny pack), grab a few liters of water, two walking sticks and head out the door for a veritable day’s workout in the desert.

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Unbeknownst to many first time visitors, Moreeb Sand Dune is the renowned playground for souped-up 4 X 4 ‘s, motor cross bikes, dune buggies, and 1100 horsepower sand rails. During the mild winter months (late December to early January) the “Race to the Top” desert competition, which is one of the highlights of the Liwa International Festival, attracts hundreds of amateur to seasoned drag racers, campers, and dune bashers. Although, I missed last season’s seven day extravaganza, where folks pitching tents are as ubitiquous as falcon and camel racing, I was able to “catch” a glimpse of the action, second hand, via my colleague’s semi-professional video posted on you tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WU-wfNSVGA). Unquestionably, it is an event to behold.

Outside of the festival months, traffic to the Dune is notably light. You will find a few truckers on the winding roads approaching the dunes and a handful of die-hard campers along the way.

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Thus, climbing the dunes becomes a largely solitary act unless you bring along your own fan club for moral reinforcement. Standing at the foot of “Scary Mountain”, you will quickly be reminded of your diminutiveness in the immense desert plains. The monstrosity of the dune coupled with unrelenting humidity can become overwhelming, thus it is advisable to begin your ascent in the early am or the late afternoon as I did, to avoid being browbeaten by the unforgiving rays of the sun (temperatures during the spring months can climb as high as 100+ degrees with near debilitating 60 % humidity). Yet, the panoramas from atop the dunes are well worth the 45 min to 1 hr. trek it takes to ascend and descend at a reasonable pace. With a little grit coupled with manifest destiny on your side, you can make ascending Moreeb Dune one of your landmark moments in the UAE.

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