Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Dubai Desert

11th December 2007:

For our last full day in Dubai, it was time to do an organized tour. We had been self-sufficient in our trip so far, but our next task required professional guidance: it was time to put on the "Laurence of Arabia" hat and take a trek across the desert.

Our guide for the day was "Arabian Adventures" and the tour was "Desert Dinners". My first thoughts about what it would be like to travel across the sand dunes involved us riding camels from oasis to oasis. Thankfully (sadly?) things have modernized and instead of being collected by a herd of camels from our hotel ;), a big 4 wheel drive Toyota Land cruiser turned up instead. Still, within seconds of sitting in the air-conditioned interior any wistful notions of trekking on camels were quickly put into my mental rubbish bin.

Lisa, Alex and I were joined by a family from Melbourne and together we set off through the streets of Dubai towards the Dubai Desert. Another unfortunate facet of modern life is traffic and the vast amount of construction in Dubai conspired to make the streets particularly congested. The driver attempted to take a shortcut but due to roads being opened/closed on a daily basis, managed to get lost in the process. Still, it gave us ample opportunity to admire one of the local Sheik's palaces and then a short while later we saw another of his palaces: the second palace is there in case he gets bored with his first one(!)

We soon hit the highway and left the city behind. The already arid landscape quickly became more and more sandy and 3/4 hour after leaving the city we arrived at one of the entry points into the desert. It turns out that the tire pressure in the jeeps works well on roads, but not so well on sand. The entry points therefore provide spaces for you to lower the tire pressure on the way into the desert, and air compressors for re-filling the tires again on the way out. Incidentally, if you have the money, you can even buy jeeps with on board air-compressors which deflate/inflate the tires automatically: neat!

Lisa and Alex had both taken travel sickness tablets before we left the hotel and it was a wise move: we were soon being thrown forwards into our seat belts before crashing back into our seats as we climbed sand dunes, crested the tops and plummeted down the other side. We joined about 30 other cars in a convoy and we all off-roaded over the golden sand dunes: even the driver had a great time despite doing it probably every day(!) The only time he seemed slightly worried was when we came down a little bit too hard over a dune and the car ended up cutting out: he looked nervous because if we waited too long the car behind us would have ended up on top of us... Still, we were on our way again quickly.

First main stop was at a camel herder's station where we got up and close with the camels. They're pretty tall in real life, though they could do with a trip to the dentist :) They were also very docile as I presume they are used to being around new people every day. When we had been in the markets in Dubai over the previous days for some reason it was I who got most of the attention from the shop assistants and hawkers: sure enough, I was also the one who the camel herders asked for "a little extra money": I must look loaded or something(!)

We left the camel station as dusk was approaching and drove a short distance further out in the desert. We took a break from the off-roading and Lisa, Alex and I sat on top of a dune and relaxed as the sun crept lower to the horizon. Sunset over the desert was dramatic with the golden sun illuminating the golden sand and the long shadows cast by the dunes getting longer and longer as the sun dropped lower and lower...

Last major stop on the tour was at a Bedouin camp for the evening's festivities. They had camels nearby and we all had a go at having a ride (tip: hold on tight, especially when the camel gets up or sits down) and then moved into the camp itself. The giant square-shaped camp had a big Arabian rug in the open air in its centre and hugging the outer walls was one long tent which housed low-tables and cushions for seats. We spent the evening enjoying traditional local food with wine and then relaxed while being entertained by a traditional art form: belly dancing(!)


What I find fab about cities such as New York or Paris is that no matter how many times you visit them, there are always activates to do and you never seem to have enough time to do everything on offer. Dubai isn't there yet. We had three days there and had performed most of the available activates: had we stayed another two days we may have even run out of things to do. However, for a short stop over Dubai is well worth visiting. The wealth on display is at times breathtaking, everybody speaks English so there's no "Lost In Translation" problem and it also provided a gentle introduction to Arabic culture: Dubai is well worth visiting.