Numerous dhow and abra rides are available around the capital for those looking to see the sights but few involve a UAE history lesson, the traditional songs of the pearl divers and an oyster shucking that might reveal a pearl. If this sounds intriguing, book a journey on the Abu Dhabi Pearl at the Eastern Mangroves.
Their pearl excursions last between 60-90 minutes and set sail from the Eastern Mangroves Promenade. Guests climb aboard the jalboot – a traditional pearling dhow which carries up to 20 people – and enjoy a leisurely cruise along the quiet channels that line the stunning Eastern Mangroves.
Flora and fauna abound in this naturally green reserve in the heart of Abu Dhabi. Bird watchers will spy heron, gulls, kingbirds and sometimes flamingos flying above. Sea lovers will gaze upon fish, black crabs and, if you’re lucky, you maybe spot a school of dolphins riding the gentle Arabian waves alongside your boat. Your guide may even give you a sneak peek into a little known palace located deep within the mangroves.
Pearl explorers sit on traditional Arabian floor cushions and sample locally made Arabic coffee and dates. As you relax, unwind and snack, a knowledgeable Emirati guide presents a brief history of how the UAE’s forefather’s lives revolved around collecting thousands of oysters in the vain hope that just one might contain a valuable pearl to trade or make into an item of jewellery.
The jalboot then drops anchor, and your guide will demonstrate the traditional way of opening a living oyster. This is a highly interactive experience that sees every guest given their own oyster to open, and it is suitable for both kids and adults.
Some oysters will contain a pearl, and guests are encouraged to shuck to their heart’s content so no one leaves feeling disappointed by their lack of discovery. The pearls you will find are not only real but quite valuable and make a fantastic conversation piece when made into jewellery.
The guide will explain to you about the pearling industry, with ‘hoyamal’ music as a soundtrack. These traditional songs were the songs sung by the pearl divers on the boats to keep their spirits up.
Abu Dhabi Pearl Journeys can be booked any time of day between 9am-8pm. Your pearl journey will begin at the time you select; sunrise, sunset, noon, afternoon, or in the evening, which is highly recommended the as the sun is not too hot and the rosy glow of sunset makes the mangroves, the sea and just about everything lovelier.
Every Abu Dhabi Pearl journey is different. There is always something unexpected to see in the mangroves reserve and something new to learn. But no pearl explorer leaves without a deeper understanding of the history of the pearl diving in the Arabian Sea and the rich legacy that the trade has left behind, or without a keepsake pearl.
Dhs500; Dhs400 for kids under 12-years-old. Pearl tours run daily from 9am-8pm. Boats depart the Eastern Mangroves Promenade. For more information, visit www.adpearljourney.com, firstname.lastname@example.org (02 641 9914).
A brief history of pearl diving in the UAE
Pearl diving was one of the main occupations of the people in the Arabian Gulf as the region was one of the most active pearl diving areas in the world. Long ago, many jalboots would be at sea for four months at a time to pearl dive, explore, and come to shore with enormous bounties. Pearl diving may seem a charming diversion today, but back then, it was tiresome and often quite dangerous. Lead weights dragged the divers down to the ocean floor to search for pearls and they had to be careful not to get caught in the lines. Rope pulleys brought the divers back up to the surface, and there the pearls were retrieved. The pearl diving industry was extremely competitive. Divers were known to swallow their biggest pearls in a desperate attempt to keep their findings to themselves.