“Travelling to Dubai? You must go on a desert safari!”
A gleaming white Toyota Land Cruiser pulls up in front of the hotel. It is 3.00 pm, the pick up time for the Dubai Desert Safari and Dune Bashing, one of the top things to do in the Emirati city.
I strike a conversation with our young Yemeni driver and in true Arabic hospitality, he adopts me as his cousin. He explains in detail the itinerary for this six hour tour and informs me that he normally takes six passengers but today, there are only four of us.
After picking up the other couple from their hotel, we navigate dense traffic out of the city. With approximately forty five minutes to the desert, there is nothing to do but discover parts of the city not often seen by visitors.
By now, Dubai has taken on a golden hue, a mixture of oblique sunlight, dust and mild pollution. Cars, trucks and 4 wheel drives sit impatiently in traffic. We veer past Burj Khalifa and pass low rise housing, a mega Dragon Mart and head in the direction of Hatta/Oman. Massive power lines rise towards the sky with rubble and life-size Tonka trucks at their feet.
Al Sahra, the desert is getting closer.
The Land Cruisers from Planet Tours and Safaris assemble at a remote Emarat petrol station. We have a brief comfort stop while the drivers release a little pressure from the wheels of the vehicles to give better grip over the sand.
We buckle our seatbelts and hold on to the hand railing for the start of a bumpy ride over the dunes.
Here in the desert, the air-conditioned 4WDs follow one another like a caravan. I have the song Desert Rose by Sting and Cheb Mami play in my mind. I can only imagine what it would have been like to ride in a caravan of camels in the heat of the desert.
Our driver takes it slow at first, almost flirting with the sand dunes. Then he drives the vehicle to a peak, stops for two seconds as we hold our breath then plunges steep into the sand below.
With one hand holding the rail the other attempting to capture the experience on camera, my small frame bounces in the front seat of the car. I am having so much fun that I switch the camera to video mode and enjoy the hair-raising ride.
The vehicles converge at a location with a vantage point. We descend onto the sand for a photo opportunity. I go bare feet and find the sand incredibly fine to the touch. Dune buggies pierce the quietude flying over the sandy dunes.
The second part of the dune bashing is a longer and more daring experience.
I can hear the ‘oohs’ and ‘whoas’ from Mr G behind me and the other couple in the back each time the 4WD twists and drops from a height. Sitting in the front passenger seat, I hold on to the ceiling for support. Our skilled driver, my adopted cousin, gives me a cheeky smile and asks,
“Are you scared?”
“Oh no!” I assure him. “Just trying to take good photos.” I can hear him muffle his laughter. He seems to be having as much fun as we are.
The Land Cruisers assemble in one line again and open their bonnets. We disembark for a while to enjoy a much anticipated highlight of the safari tour. The sun is about to set over the desert.
What follows is best left for photographs.
After bidding farewell to the sun over the dunes, the light and temperature begin to drop and we head in the direction of the camp. Darkness descends quickly in the desert and after a fifteen minute drive, we arrive at the Bedouin campsite.
Or a Bedouin campsite replica.
There are so many activities in which to partake but our driver tells us to grab a good spot near the central stage so we can watch the performance later in the evening.
We are welcomed with a cup of Arabic coffee and the sweetest of dates.
The bar serves alcoholic drinks at a cost but soft drinks are complimentary. I ask the barman if he has any Arak, the aniseed flavoured drink and the perfect accompaniment to Middle Eastern food. He offers me wine and other spirits such as Vodka, Whiskey and Gin which I politely decline.
I get a henna tattoo on my hand.
While it takes half an hour to set, we sit under a tent listening to Arabic music and smoking an apple shisha.
Soon, we are accosted to buy souvenirs. The sales guy puts a guthra (headscarf) and egal (black rope), the traditional male black and white checked headscarf on Mr G, and he looks fabulous in it. I have my eye on a sheer black belly dance coin hip scarf. In the desert, cash or credit are no object. They can swipe your credit card and even take American Express.
By the time we decide whether or not to ride a camel, we find the animals resting and no one in sight to take us on a ride. We settle on a few photographs while Mr G admires the camels’ long lashes and almond shaped eyes.
I spot the moon rising from the dunes and I realise than in a matter of hours, I have seen the sun set and the moon rise over the desert; an entrancing experience that I will always carry with me.
We line up for food, a barbeque consisting of meat and chicken skewers, hommous, curries, pastas, salads and bread. My appetite has dissipated in the heat and somehow I forget to take photographs of the food.
The entertainment starts with a belly dancer performing her special moves to modern and traditional Arabic tunes. She balances a stick on her head and invites people from the audience to join her in the dance. I end up putting my new coin hip scarf to good use.
When the performance ends, the tour is about to come to a close. But there remains one thing I want to do. We rush to one of the tents and dress up in traditional Emirati clothing. Mr G, still in his guthra and egal, puts on a white dishdash and I wear a black abaya and cover my hair with a black scarf. We strike a serious and demure pose.
The photograph becomes the Arabian memento of our wedding anniversary.
With our stomachs full and feeling a little weary from the heat and excitement, we return to our 4WD for the ride home. There is to be no more dune bashing in the night as we take the asphalt road towards the city.
The twinkling lights of Dubai beckon in the distance.
Visiting Dubai? Don’t miss our Top 10 Things in To in Dubai.
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