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.
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.
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.
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.