Friday, May 24, 2013

Sandy Safari

The desert offers up a perfect combination of some of my biggest fears.

For one, I hate isolated areas. I've joked before that I like to stay within a 15-mile radius of the nearest Starbucks, and there's some truth to that. No, I'm not a big fan of the Seattle coffee with the green mermaid on the cup, but I do enjoy the urban population that surrounds it.

I can tolerate bucolic, pastoral scenes for an hour or two, but any longer and I start itching with hives that can only be cured by ambulance sirens and traffic congestion.

I also really dislike dry climates. I don't know if that is in part because of my Midwest/Northeast upbringing, but I historically prefer mild climates with lots of natural bodies of water.

And deciduous trees. Lots, and lots of deciduous trees.

So, a desert safari 30 minutes outside of Dubai was a bit nerve wracking for me. Compounded by the arid surroundings of sand dunes and singeing, 100 degree heat, and I knew I was well out of my comfort zone.

Our driver, Mushtar, met us at the hotel in a reinforced all-terrain vehicle. Roll bars and plush seats for seven - we crammed into the Toyota and headed far away from Dubai's gleaming glass skyscrapers and mirage-like water features.

After a quick stop at the requisite roadside souvenir shop, we guzzled water and set off for desolation.

The lady bobblehead pictured above now proudly sits on my bookcase

Mushtar drove off the main road onto the sand. The ride was quite tame in the beginning, but then the dunes turned into towering hills with steep grades. We careened up and down the dunes, zigging and zagging to avoid sandy cliffs carved out by the desert winds.

At times we motioned to grab the rooftop handle bars, jostling and sailing through the sand.

We met our group of cars, five or six in all, and jumped out of the dunes for a photo op. Some couples posed with sandy hills in the foreground, the sun beginning to dip toward the horizon in the distance.

A few of the women in the group dropped their LV Neverfulls to strike glamorous poses in the desert, reclined and waving silky scarves in the wind. These women were a regular embarrassment to the group, and their hackneyed photo session was par for the vacation's course.

We had to wait a good 20 or 30 minutes to allow the vehicles' hot engines cool to a safe temperature before we journeyed on. A man and boy came to entertain the group and talk about the region's tradition of falconry. The bird was a beautiful creature, but I was not inclined to spend 10 dirhams ($3) to pose with it.

I preferred the candid shots of the boy and the man interacting on the top of the sand dune. The desert gives way to stunning shadows and light.

We piled back in our vehicles and set off to cross the rest of the desert. Up and down we sailed, clutching our stomachs and letting out mild yelps when a sandy crest got the best of us.

We had to make another pit stop in the desert - yet another engine cooling opportunity - and we got to snap more beautiful photos of the region's vast expanse. Dry, desert air and sand as far as the eye could see.

Thank goodness for bottled water.

By this point, Mushtar asked us to call him Mushi (or Mushi-Mushi for the ladies). He was very generous with humor and consideration - always offering to snap photos for us, handing us chilled bottled water. Mushi was a great driver and tour guide, and I'd head into the desert with him in a heartbeat.

We stopped for one more picture before we headed back to civilization, or, a destination with paved roads. Back on asphalt, Mushi took us to a side excursion - a camel farm!

Mushi gets dangerously close to the camels

In a future post, I'll tell you about the next leg of our desert journey, which included a camel ride, belly dancing, and a fantastic oasis barbecue.

But first, enjoy a little video of our wild ride on the dunes. Warning: you may want to avoid this video if you experience motion sickness. Truly.

Click here to see my Flickr set for the entire trip.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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