|(Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
And so, desperate, I set off to find The Last Snicket, the tiny gap out by the RTA depot in the desert beyond Mizhar that breaches the insane wall of concrete lumps that very transport authority has constructed in the sands that border two parts of the same country.
I don't know what I was thinking. I mean, if I'd sat out the MBZ mess, I'd have been through in 30 minutes. But something in me, the spirit that sets salmon carving their way across the world's oceans to seek a nice, Scottish river to die in, craved freedom. Driving along the sandy track by the barrier in the darkness, I started to doubt myself. Was this really the smart thing to do? Of course it was, I was moving, wasn't I?
The little gap was closed. They've been plugging gaps opening in their barrier daily. And they've gone further out into the remote desert than ever before. You know that feeling when you just have to keep going around the next corner in the wadi to see what's there? Yep, that. I carry on up sandy hill and down bosky dell, finding gap after gap has been plugged with the ground all around churned up by the tractors they've used to pile up great walls of sand to reinforce their barrier. Until I get to The Last Snicket, literally a few hundred yards from the Emirates Road, the E611, in the deep, deep desert.
They've even blocked that, something I discover as I hurl the car over the piles they've made in their blocking frenzy, the Pajero bucking on the rough, soft sand and then lurching down a steep slope into a deep, pitch black bowl. That's when The Fear hit me, the nasty tingle you get when you know something really, really bad's about to happen and you're powerless to stop it. There are two ways out of the bowl, a long slope that appears to have no ending in the darkness and a steep boggy little track out to the right, all churned up and deeply rutted soft sand. I can see very little because my lights are pointed downwards as I slip down the slope. I'm going too slowly, slam my foot down on the throttle and go for the boggy sand, knowing in my heart of hearts I don't have enough speed. Sure enough, half-way up, I dig in and grind to a halt. I reverse to try and regain some momentum to get back up the steep incline I've come down, but it's useless. I stick right there in the cusp of the bowl in the desert blackness.
I say some rude things and then abandon ship. It's too late, too remote and too dark to do anything else. I clamber up the soft dunes and strike out towards the bright lights of the labour camp that sits between the RTA depot and the snaking lights of the 611. Shoes filled with sand, I realise what a spectacle I present when labourers stop to gape at me - a man has walked out of the inky darkness of the desert wearing a blue suit and carrying a laptop bag. I do what any decent Englishman would do and wave, bidding them a cheery 'Good evening'.
I find a gentleman wearing a 'security' uniform. 'Good evening,' I smile. 'Is there any chance I could get a taxi from here?'
He is speechless, but the chap next to him has more presence of mind. 'Where going?' He asks. 'To Sharjah,' I tell him. He grabs my arm and propels me to a nearby bus full of labourers. 'Sharjah, Sharjah, one way!' he shouts at the driver. A jockey seat is put down and patted by a chap in tatty blue overalls. 'Majlis!' he calls out above the coughing engine noise, a broken-toothed grin welcoming me into the fuggy interior. And we set off, some thirty labourers on their way to enjoy a wander around Rolla and me in my blue suit, poker straight and somewhat bewildered, if the truth be told.
We drive up through a track in the darkness, finally breaking out onto the road by the RTA depot and then through Mizhar and Muhaisna. The chaps are nattering away, cheerful and buoyed by the coming weekend. Their chatter is a constant tide of shouts, laughter and tubercular coughing set against the rise and fall of the clanking engine. We hit bad traffic and a moan goes up from the bus, 'Sonapour, Sonapour,' they tut and sigh. It's as if there's nothing good ever to be got from Sonapour, the source of the traffic snarl-up.
They let me off at National Paints and I bid them a cheery, and genuinely thankful, farewell and get a taxi. The taxi driver has clearly never seen a man in a suit get off a labour bus before and it takes me a while before I can get him to listen to where I want to go.
For what it's worth, I eventually made it back down to Warqa only half an hour late.
The next day I went back in the company of pal Derek to see how we could possibly unstick the Paj. It was pretty hopeless, but some tyre letting down and tugging later, we managed to extricate ourselves both from the bowl. And then, because we could, we pootled over the blocked snicket and home to Sharjah.
It's safe to say, though, that my snicketing days are now over. I enjoyed the new experience of the Liberty Bus but honestly don't fancy making a habit of it...