Saturday, March 03, 2007

Dubai Trek: Fourth and final bit

This has been a while coming hasn't it? Must've been four days since the last episode, but I've got an excuse. Well, several excuses really including a black tie ball, a farewell party for Sherard, and the Embassy's Emergency Exercise, which I'll tell you about in a day or two.

For now though let's get back to the Dubai trip and finish one story off before we start another.

We left off just after the Roger Waters concert when Elliot and I picked Karen up from the airport in the wee small hours. Thursday morning came too soon and we hadn't had enough sleep. Maybe it was enough technically but we wanted more. But no, it was time to get up, pack the suitcase and re-load our camping gear from Gerard's garage back into the car (I'd forgotten to tell you I'd unloaded it on Wednesday morning so that we didn't have rubber mallets and saucepans bouncing around in the back as we rumbled along the wadi). It was then that I realised my mistake. I thought we were setting off first thing, but the plan was actually a noon departure. This pleased Karen no end because it meant we had time to to to the shopping mall for a couple of hours.

"Wagons Roll!"

On our return we made another trip to the local supermarket for supplies and then we were off on the road to Al Ain, a couple of hours' drive to the South of Dubai and quite close to the Oman border. Gerard is leading the convoy once more and has the co-ordinates taken from the book, "U.A.E. Off-Road" programmed into his GPS. After a couple of hours on the road we leave it once more and deflate our tyres in preparation for some dune-bashing. Gerard is the drive-first-and-ask-questions-later type when he sees an ocean of sand before him, and it's as much as Dave and I can do to keep up as he goes shooting off, the back of his 4x4 bouncing up, down, and sideways as he speeds away from us in a cloud of sand.

Gerard being towed clear by Dave

"Oi, out the way! 4x4s coming through!"

The dunes here are smaller but still steep and very tightly packed together compared with the desert driving we've done in Saudi, where the dunes are spaced out and huge. The driving here is, therefore, hairier than we've done before, because it's all dune: you're always on a slope, going either up it, down it, or sideways along it which is the most frightening. In the Saudi desert at least you have the option of driving around the base of the dunes and having a relatively sedate drive, but here is like a rollercoaster. Karen's clinging on for dear life in the passenger seat but nothing phases the children, who are sat in back with their sunglasses on listening to their iPods. Again and again I watch as Gerard's car shoots up a steep dune, then slowly tips forward at the top and then disappears at what looks like an almost vertical incline. I don't want to follow but have little choice as I'm not confident in finding myself a new path over the dune, so I accelerate and blindly tip over the top of the dune, trying to assess what's on the other side as quickly as possible after the car has righted itself enough for me to see where I'm going again. This goes on for about half an hour until we eventually find a suitable site to set up camp. It's not flat but it's close enough, and there are some nice dunes nearby for the children to play on. So we circle our wagons, so to speak and start unloading the gear.

Gerard's got his daft umbrella thing out again! Note our new "Real Man's Tent" in the background.

I think Megan likes it here!

Some sand...

Some more sand

The intrepid photographer looks for a good spot to shoot the sunset

It takes us around an hour to erect tents, tables, chairs, lanterns, barbecues, and to find some wood for a fire, during which time the children are playing with sandboards that someone has brought along. These are like snowboards; you stand on it and "surf" down the dune. It goes quite slowly when I have a go on it - must have picked a softer route than the others.

Emily, Abigail, Megan and Dave: Kings of the Castle

Elliot showing how it should be done

...and me showing how not to do it

Dave with daughter Megan. Dave's another Nikon owner: good lad!

Emily thinks she's on the beach in Blackpool!

I'm afraid we made a bit of a mess on the way in.

Nice picture of some sand

Over the course of the next few hours Gerard sets off to meet other families at the rendezvous point -- a petrol station. Some have had to work during the day and have followed us down late, but Gerard loves bouncing around the dunes so much we soon see his headlights as he bobs his way back to camp in the twilight, with two more terrified families on his coat-tails.

Another day draws to a close over the desert

Gerard leading in the latecomers

The party then gets into full swing: barbecued kebabs, burgers, beer wine, marshmallows toasted on the open fire, and as midnight draws near and most of the children have gone to bed, someone suggests a little Pink Floyd music might be in order and there is (almost) unanimous agreement, so I oblige by putting on Wish You Were Here on my iPod through the car stereo and leaving all the doors open, and we chill out in our folding chairs with a Heineken and the starry night sky.

I awake at around 0630 the next morning. The sun is up and light is streaming in through the roof of the tent. It takes the rest of the camp about an hour to emerge blinking from their tents and get the breakfast going, and we munch on bacon sandwiches and share cups of coffee because there isn't enough for one, with Dark Side Of The Moon playing in the background.

At around 9am we've loaded our car up and really need to get going. The others are staying in the desert for lunch and are packing things away leisurely, but we have a long drive back to Riyadh ahead of us so as soon as we're ready we say our goodbyes and Gerard leads us back to the petrol station and some lovely tarmac.

This is as exciting as the drive home got

Oops! Tell a lie! This was such a lovely surprise we nearly stopped by it for a picnic.

I regard tarmac as less lovely by the time we reach Riyadh and home some ten hours later.


maggieb said...

Chris i have really enjoyed your stories about Dubai. I said in an earlier coment that my young brother lives out there in Dubai he has lived there about 6 years.I haven't been out to visit him yet but my mum & dad went out before dad died. Then last year my sister & mum went out for 2 weeks my sister said it's all road & sand. My brother lives by the moterway hope to visit sometime maybe when all the building work is over he he.nxrpif

Chris said...

Thanks for the kind words Maggie. Don't be fooled by the bleak landscapes in my photos: Dubai the city is a fascinating, vibrant, happening town with something for everyone. I'd definitely recommend you visit first chance you get.

PS the building work will NEVER be finished; it'll just keep growing/expanding, so don't use that as an excuse to delay.