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Kayaking in mangroves off a luxury hotel

Here we go...

Here we go…

Another continent, another part of the world – and another mode of transport.  Here is the gal, kayaking through the Eastern Mangroves of Abu Dhabi, senior Emirate of the UAE. On the very day that UAE President HH Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is in England, riding in an open coach as guest of The Queen, here is a visitor to his Emirate, wearing her upper biceps out with kayaking (what WILL luxury hotels think of next?)

Welcome coffee

Welcome coffee…

It seemed like a good idea to fly into Abu Dhabi airport rather than Dubai but much to my amazement the line at Abu Dhabi immigration was horrendous, and incredibly slow (travel tip: make sure you somehow get a Fast Track immigration form, which saves a bit of time, but for really fastest immigration, get Emirates Palace to meet you, which means staying there, as only they seemed to get their meeter-and-greeter right to the plane door, and he rushed his people through).  Anyway, on arrival at one of Abu Dhabi’s newest luxury hotels, Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara, I felt at home. There in the lobby is welcome coffee, next to three mountains of dates, two-feet high.

..welcome agal

..welcome agal

Up in room 535, a towel on the bed had been deliberately scrunched up to look like a keffiyeh, the fabric headcloth that men wear in this part of the world.  The scrunched-up towel has a real agal on it.  Also spelled egal, igal or iqal, this is a doubled black cord, that keeps the keffiyeh in place when it is being worn. Such a little thing, but it instantly gives a sense of place.  And this place certainly has that. Wake up in the morning and look across a 20-foot waterway at – mangroves. The hotel has seven miles of mangrove frontage (the entire mangrove area here is six square miles). Cannot wait to get out among them, in my kayak…

The club lounge walls look like rippled sand

The club lounge walls look like rippled sand

First, breakfast.  The fifth floor club lounge of this hotel also has that sense of place. The walls are moulded to look like sand-waves on a beach after the tide has gone out.  The tide here, by the way, is around three feet, which makes a difference to the sand crabs that live on sand banks in and around the mangroves.  The trees here, I am told, are about 30 years old (the mangrove family is Rhizophoraceae, from the genus Rhizophora, and the word mangrove comes from a mangled grove – these particular mango trees are all grey mango, Aricennia Marina).

Ready to go...

Ready to go…

After breakfast I put on my kayaking gear.  Bring suntan stuff and a hat and clothes that might get wet, I had been told. This would be a good chance to throw never-used gear away, things like a pinky-orange pair of shorts last worn in a three-mile Breast Cancer race. The suntan stuff was not needed as in fact it rained a little, such a change in this part of the world. Fuelled up with the papaya and strawberries and French yoghurt from breakfast (with fresh mango juice), I felt ready to go. The life jacket was somehow buttoned up and we were off.

Ready to be photographed

Ready to be photographed

And, dear reader, let me tell you kayaking is jolly hard work. My upper arms turned to rubber after a few minutes (the luxury hotel’s lifestyle manager, Clare Patterson, was kayaking solo, alongside us, and she said her legs ached). But oh the bird life, bliss – cranes, herons and small birds, and a pair of wild duck.  We were welcomed home with fresh fruit salad.  This is a place for getting fit. Clare says she has started holding hot yoga classes, in the hotel’s hammam.  Bikram, here we come…