Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dubai Trek: Part 3

Wednesday morning, and I lope zombie-like into the kitchen to find Gerard sat at the table with a bowl of cereal and his head in a book. The book is "U.A.E. Off-Road": a collection of wadi and desert treks and challenges that has Gerard licking his lips in anticipation. He has his eye on Wadi Asimah -- a place he's been to before, which reassures me a little. We're planning to set off from the house at 9am, Gerard leading in his white Nissan Patrol, me in my gold Prado behind and Dave bringing up the rear in his rented, ancient, dark green Jeep Grand Cherokee. Gerard and I have GPS units, but his is the only one with the off-road stuff marked on it, so he needs to be in front. He's on his own, I have Elliot & Abigail in my car and Dave has wife Ros and girls Megan (5) and Emily (3) (hope I got that right!). Gerard's wife Rachael is working and boys Charlie (9) and Oliver (7, I think) are at school. We even have walkie-talkie communications between the three of us; Gerard has four handsets total and I have two, and they all talk to each other when set to the same channel so we can stay in touch en-route.

We finally set off around 10am, Dave and I having earlier paid a visit to the local supermarket to pick up some provisions, and things begin to go wrong about ten minutes later. There's a large roundabout leading to a motorway off the 3rd exit, essentially a left turn off the roundabout. The approach roads are controlled by traffic lights, which predictabely turn red immediately Gerard has gone through them, so he's merrily going round the roundabout and setting off down the motorway to the left, while the rest of us are sat at a red light, totally dependent on the rear of his car as a beacon. Said rear is rapidly driving out of sight as we watch, helpless. The lights finally change after what seems like ten minutes, and we set off down the motorway after him, all the while trying to hail him on the walkie-talkies and calling his mobile, but the walkie-talkies are now out of range and his mobile is redirecting to the Novell Dubai office, whose Receptionist kindly informs me that Gerard is off work today. I just manage to stop myself shouting "I know!" back. We catch up with him about ten minutes later, where's he's pulled over having finally realized that we're further behind than he thought, and we set off in convoy once more.
The wadi is about an hour's drive outside Dubai, but halfway there Gerard pulls off the road and down a steep (to me) bank of shingle, and to a halt, simultaneously announcing over the radio that he has a proposition for us. We pull over and get out of the cars, and Gerard tells us of a desert challenge mentioned in the book that is just around the corner, and if we took it we could cut a corner off our journey to the wadi, the whole enterprise lengthening our outbound journey by no more than thirty minutes. Dave and I agree, I because I don't want to seem a wimp and Dave because he's a rally driver in his spare time and has been eyeing the dunes hungrily all morning. A couple of kilometres later we pull off the road onto sand, and prep for the dunes.

"Watch out desert, here we come!"

Dave and family in the Jeep

You prepare your car for desert driving by deflating the tyres to around half their normal pressure. This gives you a larger "footprint" for each wheel and reduces the chances of getting stuck in soft sand. Next step is to engage four-wheel drive. Some cars are permanently 4x4, but the Prado has selectable modes, with two-wheel drive being the default for road driving, so I have to shift my other gear lever forward to engage the centre differential (wow, getting technical aren't I?). Final part of prep is to switch off the air conditioner and open the windows. The A/C uses quite a lot of power, which you really want to have available to the driveshaft for those steep dune climbs. We've done plenty of desert driving in Saudi so I'm used to all this and feeling pretty comfortable, since the dunes here look pretty small. We set off across country and have a fun thirty minutes following Gerard as he tries to navigate to the next waypoint programmed into his GPS. The whole area is remarkably green for a desert, and reminds us more of African Savannah than desert. A little while later we decide to stop in a tree-shaded area for a rest.

My very own "Ship of the Desert"

A nice, quiet spot where we take a drink of water and eat some fruit while the children run up and down the dunes. Gerard takes the opportunity to show off his latest contraption: a garden parasol that he has modified to plug into a metal receptacle on his roofrack, thus providing a mobile sunshade. I'm thinking he's got too much time on his hands.

Talk about Mad Dogs and Englishmen!

After this stop we're soon back on the road and heading for Wadi Asimah. A wadi is a dried-up river bed, and when we get there it turns out to have been a very rocky river bed. Gerard leads the way once more as we try to find a safe way down the steep bank of loose rocks to the smoother and inviting gravel of the river bed below. Once down there we realise it's not as smooth as it looked from the top of the bank, and we bump and rattle our way along the wadi for about ten minutes before making our first stop, in a rocky gorge with dark, stark, jagged rocks rising up all around us.

This is what 4x4's are made for!

Emily enjoying the rocky gorge. The chocolate helped.

In the middle of all this is a small spring of clear water, and we can see tadpoles swimming around in the little rock pools. Gerard (he's such an Action Man!) catches a couple in his hand for the children to look at, and Elliot and Abigail are clambering all over the rocks (First the Hard Rock Cafe, now the hard rock gorge!). I'm worried for their safety but try not to be too anal about it, instead reminding myself to trust their own common sense.

"Elliot! Get down from there!"

After a few minutes we carry on to another stop, and another sheer wall of jagged rock that attracts the flip-flop-shoed children like a magnet. I stay at the bottom, ostensibly to take photos but really so that they have something soft to break their fall.

Rather them than me!

Elliot, Abigail, Megan and Emily with Gerard "Mad Dog" McDonnell

We leave the wadi to head back to the house at around 4 in the afternoon, a great day out and everyone back safe and sound. I have renewed respect for the Prado, that had reached places I never imagined it could go.

In the evening Abigail stays at the house to help the housekeeper with baby sitting, and the rest of us make our way to the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre to see Roger Waters in concert. I never got to see Pink Floyd play live, so this was the closest I was going to get. Waters split from the band in the mid-'80s: I won't go into it here but if you want to know the details check out this Wikipedia entry.

The concert was just awesome! The first half included Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Wish You Were Here, Sheep, and In The Flesh from The Wall. He also performed some newer material I hadn't heard before, and I liked that too. It was a large band, with at least four guitarists, two keyboard players, a sax, three backing vocalists and a drummer. Waters himself plays bass guitar and did most of the vocals. There was a huge screen behind the stage of the outdoor amphitheatre that showed video, stills, and psychedilic lava lamp-style effects, in concert with the song playing, and there was a large TV screen on each side of the stage. Most of the crowd were standing on the grass in this natrually sloped space, with a gantry of VIP seats along the back, but these were only half full.

The second half was given over to a performance of The Dark Side Of The Moon in its entirety, and it went down a storm. Every song was performed meticulously by the unarguably aged but all-the-more-professional-for-it musicians, and the crowd went wild. It was the best performance I've seen for many years. After Dark Side the band went off, then returned for encores a couple of minutes later. They did Vera and Another Brick In The Wall Part 2, finishing off with the majestic Comfortably Numb, all from The Wall, which is Waters' masterpiece and undoubtedly his own personal favourite of the Floyd's albums.

The concert ended just in time for Elliot and me to drive to the airport to pick Karen up, finally getting back to Gerards, around 1am. Elliot still talks about the concert all the time and is learning to play some of the songs on his guitar.


Anonymous said...

what about the next day? that was even better !


Johan Silver said...

In Desert Safari in Dubai during your trip you are served refreshing drinks, along with it you will enjoy international buffet as well Night diving, beach Para, night crab hunting etc. and if you wish to enjoy sand than Hatta Mountains is the best area to enjoy sand and sun.