My husband and I recently took a weekend break out to the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort hotel (amazing – but more about that another time). We set off on our journey from Abu Dhabi, typed our destination into the GPS in the car and off we went. As we left the City of Abu Dhabi behind and the roads became more remote, we couldn’t help but laugh as the GPS told us to ‘continue straight for 146 km’ – now that’s a long road without any turn offs!

You get a lot of ponder time on such a long, straight road in the desert, so as I looked out of the car windows at the landscape we passed through, it began to occur to me just how hostile an environment a desert really is, and how truly amazing the accomplishments of this country really are, especially in such a short space of time. Just the thought of the effort and logistics required to maintain a 146 km long road deep into the desert makes the mind boggle, let alone building it from scratch, carving out the pathway through huge dunes that are constantly moving. It really is incredible when you give it some thought.

Despite being such a straight road, it really is beautiful with the huge, red, rolling sand dunes either side of the road that go on for as far as the eye can see. Realising the beauty and power of nature around you is one of those times when you suddenly feel very small and insignificant. Which is what led me to thinking about how on earth the road doesn’t just disappear and become buried under the power of the surrounding sand. At intervals all along the road are tiny houses, little more than shipping containers with windows really, which presumably house the workers that help to maintain the road. Clearly, a job this epic and this far away from any town or city, requires full-time care.

According to the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has 230,000 hectares of forest that has been established by the Government – over and above the gardens in the cities and along main roads. Among the reasons cited for these forests, of course one of them is that they present an effective screen against sand storms and dune invasion. This can be seen on the road out towards Liwa, where a good distance of the road has trees planted on either side of the tarmac, as well as with larger forest plantations also being apparent at intervals. The infrastructure and the work required in order to plant, build, and maintain all of this is just staggering when you give it some thought. And it’s not limited to just planting forests or building roads – think about the logistics of bringing electricity deep into the desert – the pylons, the pylon platforms and their foundations, not to mention telegraph poles, the sand ploughs and mechanical equipment required, the sprinkler systems to water the trees – the water itself and the necessary infrastructure to carry the water into the desert! And that’s all before you’ve factored in a workforce to power the initial infrastructure setting and continue the maintenance going forward.

It really is an unbelievable task when you consider all the planning and logistics involved. It’s just astounding when you look at the cities that Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become, and are still evolving into. The UAE is a very new country, yet despite the much promoted famous buildings and glamorous face of the country, is still often perceived by those who live here as being behind in many ways. Of course there’s always room for improvement anywhere, but when you take a moment to think about how much planning and effort goes into making this country habitable in a modern sense – let alone comfortable or functional, I think it gives you a new-found respect for the achievements of the forefathers of the country. There’s a lot we residents of the UAE take for granted, especially for those of us that come from Western countries – we’re used to long-established infrastructure and tried and tested public systems and processes – we’ve never known another way of life until now and we are quick to criticise when standards here don’t meet those we may have at home. But we don’t often take the time to really see and think about the depth of truly amazing things these cities have achieved since 1971. That’s forty-two short years. So, the next time you’re feeling frustrated by bad service, or terrible drivers, or traffic problems, or the bureaucracy involved in doing the most basic of tasks and cursing it – just remember the almost impossible comfort and luxury that has been brought to this desert land, that which we are lucky enough to enjoy living in here – and remember just how far the country has come. For a country only formed in 1971, it’s really doing pretty well.

Happy 42nd UAE National Day everyone, hope you are enjoying your long weekend!