My heart is still pounding. Ride of a lifetime. And completely unexpected.
The Dubai desert safari — the routine tourist excursion — blew me right out of the sand. Bevan severely understated the safari, and I love this about him. Throwing his hat in the ring for a sixth time (poor guy) taking a visitor, he stated firmly that he was retiring his safari tripping after taking me. His understandably lacklustre mention of the day's trip and his eye-rolling did nothing much in the way of building anticipation. But he did that on purpose to surprise the hell out of me.
Oh my. What a day. The greatest. Our driver from Arabian Night Tours picked us up along with another pair and we set out to the desert. I couldn’t believe how fast he was driving on the highway, so reckless with four passengers in the car, but it all made sense later on: He was trained to drive like a maniac.
Many cars in the UAE beep when the driver reaches 120. Our car would beep continually, and many times the driver just went faster. He stopped to let air out of each tire. Huh?? Less air in the tires allows the truck, a Toyota Land Cruiser, better traction in the sand. Still unsure what was unfolding, we joined other tourists by their trucks on the edge of the desert. I could see tire tracks crisscrossing in the sand.
And suddenly, we were off. I had no idea what was going on. We hit the sand and things got wild. He let ‘er rip and suddenly began one of the craziest rides of my life. Up and over and around and down, we climbed massive sand dunes of all heights and angles and flew down, sometimes looking directly at the ground through the windshield when the dune was steep. Every once in a while we would see one of the other trucks launching off a sand dune. Sometimes they got close. I was sort of screaming. Like in a good way.
The unpredictability was both exhilarating and frightening. On a roller coaster, say, you are locked in on a track and knew which way you would be turning, and you have safety expectations. Our truck was flying up and down and around with only the driver to control it, skidding on the sand, spinning its wheels, balancing on one wheel, hydroplaning, levitating, feeling about ready to tip over. And who’s to say it wouldn’t.
There were white SUVs flying all over the place at top speed, each driver masterfully commanding the dunes and somehow dutifully staying out of the way of the others. The truck would tip and buckle and jolt. At times sand would hit the window hard and make me yelp, other times if we were balancing on two wheels it would spray loudly on the windows like water a car wash. I was still sort of screaming, but in a good way. We bounced along on this unexpected ride of a lifetime.
By the time we stopped my shorts had jolted right up my butt.
We hit the highway and drove to another set of huge sand dunes. Along the way the driver gestured at one of the SUVs pulled over, where a tourist was tossing her cookies. “Don’t be like this, OK,” the driver mused.
After part two of an exhilarating ride, the trucks all stopped for a breather and a photo op. My feet sunk into the soft desert sand as I leapt out of the truck. It didn’t feel at all like beach sand, and when I say sunk I mean up-to-my-ankles sunk. I was mesmerized. I kicked my flip flops off and the brown, suede-like sand swallowed up my toes. Gone. I sunk in deeper. Surveying the dunes, standing atop one of the peaks, feeling the breeze on my face with the sun setting and the sky colours changing, my heart still beating from a mother of a ride … WOW.
I looked at Bevan – you dawg! I had no clue it would be this great. He smiled big and buried my flip flops. Score another one for the tour guide.
The night was far from over. The tour package had an entire evening planned. They brought us all to a clearing in the desert with different stations set around a stage and tables with cushions on the ground. There were camel rides, sand boarding, henna, Arabic coffee, dinner and show. Fun.
I jump on a camel. “Hold on tightly,” the leader says. Suddenly I am propelled back as the camel gets up from its perch. The ol’ girl brings me around and I almost take a header in the sand as it sits back down with a giant thud. I then get my finger decorated in henna, watch a pretty wild show of traditional Arabic spinning and belly dancing, eat a plate of Arabic food, get the henna all over my sweatshirt and call it a night. An unforgettable one at that.
TIP: Sorry about this spoiler, but you must go on a desert safari. I would recommend Arabian Nights Tours as I have only good things to say. Wear flip flops so you can play around in the sand barefoot and not sand-up your shoes. Bring warm clothes for the desert at night. Prepare to get a wedgie in the car! Not for the faint-of-stomach.
Published journalist, world traveller, big thinker, fun haver