Two reasons why I wanted to visit Al Gharbia Watersports Festival this year; firstly, to see more of Abu Dhabi’s western region, namely the Pearl Coast which is famous for harbouring some of the most scenic beaches in the UAE.
Secondly, I am the daughter of “Sea handlers” (that’s the name they have for a family like mine around here) who contributed few brave men to the shipbuilding and pearl diving industry in the gulf. As a child, I heard numerous sea adventure tales from my late grandfather. Some were joyful, some terrifying, mostly they were about courage and sacrifice. Proudly and passionately, grandpa hummed “Ho ya mal” tunes that reminded him of the good old days all the time around our house. No wonder they have become my favourite traditional sea songs.
That special connection, along with the hype, is probably what urged me to take a closer look at this festival.
The ten days event has a soaring reputation for turning the sleepy fishing village of Al Mirfa into a watersports extravaganza. There’s little else to do in this place otherwise, therefor Angel and I preferred to hit 2 birds with one stone by visiting at this time of the year.
I also happen to like my beach bumming break with a side of extreme action.
On the other hand, planning this weekend wasn’t the easiest thing to do. I knew the festival will take place towards the end of April, but no confirmed dates were announced until approximately 4 weeks ahead.
As a fellow events planner I must admit that we do have our own rhythm of doing things here in Abu Dhabi, but the show always always goes on!
Finally, the program was updated on the event’s website one week or so before the announced date. We decided to go on the 2nd weekend to catch the tradition dhow races. My favourites.
We took the only accommodation option available in the area, the 3 stars Mirfa Hotel, a modest beachfront lodging place with spacious rooms and a couple of decent dining choices.
Thanks to a little empty gas tank on a nearly secluded highway incident, we arrived fairly late on a Thursday night. The hotel’s lobby swarmed with boaters, event organizers, Etihad Rail staff, etc. The same scene was repeated the at breakfast, but it didn’t make our stay any less comfortable. In fact, once everyone got on with their tasks, we had the pool and the beach all for ourselves.
Aaah, it has been a while since the last relaxing beach escape.
Established as a fishing and pearl diving port in the late seventies, Today, Mirfa is the only developed beach in the western region.
Plans to build major resort establishments here in the coming few years are currently been woven. I’m glad we made the 120km trip west of the capital and experienced the unrefined version before monster trucks arrive and change it forever.
Low morning tide…it allowed us to walk a good distance deep into the shoreline, then retracted when it felt like the sea could suddenly rise and swallow us into its stomach any minute now. Or maybe that’s just the worst fear of a non-swimmer (me)!
Early afternoon, the wind picked and brought the tide up with it, allowing more action on the beach.
The subtle yet consistent wind is the secret to Al Mirfa’s popularity amongst watersports enthusiast all year round.
Later, we headed across the bay to the festival village. Finally a chance to meet the people of the town. They have gathered on the beach to watch the dhows arrive at the finish line, and we gladly joined them.
The sun continued to lean west as massive dove white sails appeared one by one at the bottom of the horizon. Soon, it was fully dotted with them.
A tiny butterfly flickered in my stomach, my heart sang, “Ho ya mal…”
On another date and time, not too far from now, this would have been the scene at the end of a long pearl diving or trade journey that not everyone has returned from. Women and children would have been waiting to either welcome loved ones home, or receive dreadful news about them.
If the mission of such festivals is to defend the memory of those who paved the way ahead of us, and built this precious country with sweat and tears in less than 45 years, then mission accomplished. The effort put into connecting the younger generation to their past, is truly appreciated.
The cherry on top was the epic sunset that closed the day. It glowed in glorious gold and turned everything below it into liquid magic. Mirfa looks like a good place to feed my twilight cravings.
I also hear that the diverse marine life makes it a hot spot for snorkelling and diving, maybe will try that the next time.
Last word in the ladies’ ears: this must be the most conservative part of the already very conservative community of Abu Dhabi. Make sure to dress accordingly.
Have you been to Al Mirfa or to Al Gharbia Watersports Festival before? Do you like to attend festivals to learn about the local culture?