Our guide tried to explain away one or two of the more old-fashioned local views. Men in the region had traditionally taken more than one wife, he said, just as a table needed more than one leg to stand upright. The group was not wholly persuaded.
He went on to explain that the best way to think of the history of the Emirates was through the tension between the Bedouins — conservative inland nomads — and the maritime, outward-looking and more cosmopolitan Arabs, who sailed up and down the coast trading pearls, spices, coffee and everything else.
This tension is never far from the surface in the Emirates, where each state must decide how much to liberalise in order to appeal to Western tourists.
Ajman, pictured, is just a half an hour’s drive from Dubai Airport
Ajman’s relaxed attitude is infectious. For those who can’t do without their fix of Dubai, the mad gleaming city in the sand is only 20 miles away. Recovering from its property turmoils, it has grown steadily more frenetic and chaotic in recent years.
Casino hotel groups, such as Caesar’s Palace, have started to pitch up, although gambling remains illegal, so for now they are just hotels. But the consensus seems to be that legalisation is only a matter of time.
One businessman told me the hotels have made sure there are plenty of electric sockets on the ballroom floors, should they suddenly need to install hundreds of one-armed bandits.
If you crave indoor skiing, shopping at Gucci, Fendi or Prada, the world’s tallest tower and dancing fountains, they are all available.
Then you can escape the rush and Koinqq head back to plucky little Ajman, away from the chaos, and another Emirate you’ll be able to name when the pub quiz comes round.TRAVEL FACTS
Ed Cumming travelled with Virgin Holidays (virginholidays.com, 0344 5573859) which offers five nights at the Fairmont, Ajman from £956 pp, including flights with Emirates. Details about kayaking with flamingos at questforadventure.net. Visit ajman.travel.