Saturday, June 02, 2007

Operation Desert Storm

We decided to camp out in the desert last Thursday night. Friends of ours who will be leaving soon had their teenage son over for half-term so it seemed like a good opportunity to have a last party in the desert before things get too hot (you really don't want to be in the desert in Summer). So, three families met up at our house on Thursday afternoon and we spent a good fifteen minutes standing beside our fully-loaded 4x4's pointing at the sky and tutting. Despite several days of intense heat and unrelenting sunshine Thursday's sky was looking mean and moody and for a while we were close to calling the trip off, but in the end we decided hell, we've packed the cars anyway, and what's the odd light shower between friends? A little rain would be refreshing! So off we went.

Our chosen spot in Red Sands was about an hour-and-a-half's drive, during which we drove through two quite heavy rain showers, peering up at the sky in the hope of spotting some blue between the black clouds as we went. By the time we got off the road and into the dunes the rain had stopped but the wind was picking up, and we spent around thirty minutes driving around, trying to find a suitably protected dip with dunes high enough to shelter us from the wind. Eventually we picked a spot: still not ideal and not great shelter, but by now the light was starting to fade and we needed to pitch tents 'n' stuff. Karen, Elliot and I

(Abigail is away on a school trip to Paris. We miss her terribly but get regular texts such as this morning's, "Bonjour! Had ham for breakfast Yay! Going to Eiffel Tower this morning.")

got busy putting our tent up while the others put off that task in favour of getting a fire going and setting up the tables and chairs. Our tent is one of those very lightweight ones with a built-in groundsheet: very easy to erect under normal conditions but flipping impossible in a blowing gale. We each stood there, holding a corner each with both hands and wondering what to do with the fourth corner, all the time unable to let go to reach for things like pegs and mallets for fear of the thing taking off into the storm. Each time we did manage to hammer a peg into the sand the wind ripped it out again. Just as we were wondering what to do Mother Nature gave us our answer by whipping up a quick sandstorm. In the distance we could clearly see a tornado-shaped swirl of sand spinning towards us, and there was nothing for it but to run for cover: Karen, other Karen and me diving into our half-erected tent (at least our bodyweight will keep it on the ground), and all the others more sensibly jumping back into their cars. I could feel the sand whipping around my legs (which were sticking out of the tent), and grains of sand stung my face and eyes until I'd managed to zip the tent flap down as far as my knees. The three of us sat/stood there in what amounted to a giant Nylon bag, pouring drinks and spitting sand out of our mouths for the next few minutes until the sandstorm passed. At one point I left the tent and jumped in the car so I could get a couple of photos:

Karen taking shelter and keeping hold of the tent at the same time

"Does my bum look big in this?"

After that the evening's preparations continued: fires were lit, steaks were unwrapped. Before the sandstorm I had parked the car right next to the tent to try and shelter it further from the wind (didn't work), but Adrian helped me out by tying the tent to the car's roof rails with one of the guy ropes. At least now the two Karens could evacuate the tent without it taking flight.

"Don't fancy sleeping in that!"

The children take advantage of a lull in the weather to do some climbing.

It may be windy but we sure know how to pick a campsite: this one even has separate Ladies' and Gent's facilities!

As we got on with the picnic there were two or three light showers, which we sat out in, and as it got dark I began to wonder whether we'd actually end up sleeping in our tent-mess or if we'd choose the relative comfort of the Prado when the time came.

"Those bangers ready yet Dad?"

A good time was had by all -- for a while at least

Neither was necessary, because a little while later poor Ali accidentally stepped on the charcoal fire with no shoes on and badly burned her foot. We sat her in the back of the car and the girls bathed it and cleaned it as best they could, but it quickly became obvious that she needed to go to hospital, so we promptly dismantled everything and threw all the gear into the nearest boot and headed home. I don't know if there is a Guinness World Record for the quickest de-camp ever but we must have been close. The drive back (over rough sand dunes and unlit roads in the dark and the wind and rain) was not fun, but Ali got the attention her foot needed and we all got to sleep in our own beds.

Being a Brit I'm used to changeable weather but Saudi has the UK beat when it comes to sudden and extreme change.

No comments: