UAE-style social networks ensure locals' appreciation of rainfall

Paolo Rossetti explains how to chase the rain at wadis.

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There is nothing more important to Emiratis and other peoples of the desert than water and in our modern world of on-demand faucets and green gardens, it is sometimes hard to remember this.

In the past, news of rain would bring hope and help avoid suffering. Even today, prayers are offered when the heavens open up and pure, clean water droplets fall freely. And the news spreads quickly when this happens.

As an expatriate visiting a wadi and finding fresh-flowing water, it is usually a question of luck. Often, the gorge is dry, or the water stagnant in green pools.

Even signs of rain in the general area is no guarantee - the stark, bare rocky mountains absorb almost no water and so the escarpments and long slopes serve as a sort of giant funnel, collecting and directing the water down into the valley, where normally erosion has carved a narrow and deep gorge at the lowest point.

The localised nature of these rains means there can be a storm down the eastern side of a mountain, for example, and the eastern wadi floods furiously, even if it's 15km away. However, the western side of the same mountain can be unaffected, with the dust remaining, all the way down to its wadis.

But the news of the rain is still lightening fast. The residents of the wadi call their relatives and land owners with the exciting news and they, in turn, tell their relatives and friends in a very quick succession of communication circles - social networking, UAE-style. Within a few hours, scores of SUVs arrive on the scene to take in the view of the raging floodwaters.

As an expat, it takes time before I get to hear the news, from the friend of the neighbour of the uncle of someone who has a farm plot in that area. I even leave my phone number with the Imam of the oasis mosque, but only rarely do I receive the text message "rain is coming".

But still, the chances of finding flowing water are pretty good if you go in winter, after cloud activity in the area. The water holes may be few but they're surprisingly reliable. The water percolates under tonnes of gravel and, in some drainage areas, it flows for months after the rains occur.

And this scarcity just adds to the adventure, and sharpens the senses for the hunt. Look for telltale signs of recent debris or washed-away sections of road down in the plain. You can clearly see the path the floodwaters take, especially if recent. And as you approach the oasis (all good water sources have cultivation, which has been going on for centuries, so we're not going to discover new, gurgling fountains anywhere) look for the condition of the palm fronds.

Even though they are irrigated and so receive water throughout the year, after the rain they will flourish in an explosion of vibrant green.

And once you reach the gorge where the pools get deep and swimming is possible, and you're absolutely certain there is no more water on its way, marvel at the miracle of nature that has sustained life in this arid region for thousands of years.