Surfing the Sands of Dubai
“The sand dunes are very high this morning,” announces my Evening Desert Safari tour guide Kashmir. He cheekily flashes me a big smile as he bounds like a gazelle into the hotel foyer to greet me.
“Yes! It’s going to be hilly. We should have fun today,” he teases.
We set of for the 1-hour drive through Dubai’s city street; rows and rows of enormous monoliths of glass and steel. It’s a dry, cloudless day but I can’t help but notice ominous storm clouds. A thick and seemingly endless blanket, dusty and orange, buffets the horizon in the distance. Kashmir’s voice deepens; his chirpiness gone as he alerts me that the thick haze is a result of the fine sands of the eastern desert whipped and whirled by a construction zone.
“We are lucky it is calm today but yes, we get many storms. They are very fierce and sometimes can last for days. The storms are very bad for our business. We don’t talk about them.”
Kashmir deftly changes the subject to boast of one of Dubai’s prestigious symbols; we zoom past the towering iconic sail of the Burj Al Arab skyscraper. We don’t have the time or money to drop in for one of the world’s most expensive cocktails that is served in an 18-carat gold tumbler. Instead, Kashmir shuttles me on a quick detour to the Jaheed Palace where a muster of proud peacocks strut through the royal gardens.
Next we’re on towards our ultimate destination – the Dubai Desert Safari Conservation to join the fleet of about 50 Toyota RVs similar to our own. They’re aligned like a long, slithering mechanical serpent – hissing in unison as their tour drivers release air from the tyres in preparation for the rollercoaster ride across the sands.
My 30-minute joyride begins calmly at first but my grip on the console and armrest tightens at the sight of the procession of RVs climbing the undulating carpet of sand dunes ahead of us. The ride turns rocky as the dunes get hillier. We scale the first of the endless steep mounds. One after another they come; each more threatening than the last. Sliding, twisting and turning, we thrash about like rag dolls in a washing machine. At one point we are aiming skyward and with no sense of horizon, and then I’m squealing like some delirious delinquent as our RV shimmies sideways and pitches ominously forward. The rollercoasting conga line of vehicles stops abruptly; severed because on of the vehicles ahead of us has lost traction and become stuck atop one of the monster dunes. It teeters precariously until it is pulled back down by a couple of the other drivers.
At the end of the dune bashing adventure, I win a brief respite for my jangled nerves – an ideal opportunity to get a photo or two.
“Oh, and please, while we are out here you must not touch the sodium bush. It is very poisonous.” My affable Moroccan guide Kashmir can’t help himself when it comes to instilling a hint of danger.
The golden orb sinking into the vast sandy sea is the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. I’m soon surrounded by a crowd of other safari-lovers. Their chorus of gasps and whispers softly disrupts the silence of a stunning panorama of endless undulating sands. No iPhone pictures can do this awe-inspiring landscape justice. No matter, it is frozen in our memories.
I don’t know how the Bedouins manage to stay onboard a camel all day. My backside immediately begins to feel the effects of the short but bumpy camel train experience. Getting on and riding the confounded animal is easy – getting off is the tricky bit. “Lean back and hold on,” our handler warns me as he heels my stubborn beast back to a kneeling position and I plummet back to earth.
At dusk I enter an open-air restaurant oasis that looks like a scene from The Arabian Nights. A patchwork of Persian carpets covers the sand and there is an array of movie-like props. There are jewelled figurines, ochre-coloured urns and a rainbow of fine silks with beaded tassels fluttering in the gentle desert breeze.
Waitresses, all of them dressed like blue-veiled queens of Scheherazade, serve up an Arabian feast of falafel, minted peas, fragrant lamb and lemon chicken; washed down with light wine.
A belly dancer thrills us with her gyrating moves and daring; at one point she balances a crescent-shaped sword on her head while swaying her hips to the strains of exotic music. All of this as the warm night sky fills with a thousand and one glittering stars.