Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Cruel Desert

Yesterday we joined several other Embassy families for a trip to the desert for a picnic. As this was to be Karen's and my last desert trip I was hoping for an experience to remember. We've done lots of such trips during our tour here, and each one was memorable in its own unique way. This one would be no exception, as the desert had one last trick up her sleeve....

Our plan was to hit the desert North of Riyadh, beginning at "Pyramid Dune", and do a little desert driving, or "dune-bashing" before stopping for a nice, leisurely picnic lunch, then bashing our way out again.

Pyramid Dune was "shut". Someone must have seen the kind of damage a convoy of Diplomatic 4x4's can do to a sand dune and decided to protect it from further abuse by erecting a concrete barricade.

With Pyramid Dune closed for business we had no option but to follow the line of the barricade, and that's when we discovered how soft the sand was in this area. The desert is constantly changing: varying degrees of hardness depending on how tightly packed the sand is, how long since the last rain came, and drifting and shifting in the wind. So whenever you go driving in the desert you have to go equipped to deal with your vehicle getting stuck. Most of the nine cars in our convoy had some sort of "unsticking" equipment, ranging from shovels and sand ladders to tow-ropes and winches. This is one of the principal reasons you should never attempt such a trip in a lone vehicle: you always need at least one unstuck vehicle to help you out of a jam.

The sand on this particular day was very soft, and it was not very long before the first vehicle got that sinking feeling, with clouds of sand billowing from its spinning wheels. I wasn't first to get stuck, but I was second.

Me, waiting for my crew to get their act together.

To rescue a car from this situation you dig out the sand around the wheels then put down "sand ladders": short metal ladders that give the tyres something to grip. If that doesn't work, you get your towrope and tow the car out. On this trip we had to do both together.

The Ambassador gives me a push too.

Free at last!

Ahhh, Terra Firma! ...and the more Firma, the less Terra! -- badoom tish!

In the end we had to have sand ladders, towrope, AND people pushing to get my car free. Having gotten mobile again the convoy set off once more, only for someone else to get stuck about ten minutes later.

Now this may LOOK like my car again, but it isn't. Ray has the same model and colour as mine, that's all!

After about two hours of this, with just about every other car getting stuck at least once, we decided to pitch camp in the lee of a very small dune and have our picnic lunch.

It's the Ambassador's shade we crave rather than his charismatic presence.

"Flippin' Eck, I'm glad to get out of that bumpy car for a bit!"

"Yeah, Chris is my Mr. Mayaki when it comes to Poker. What do you mean 'Who?'? Oh come on! You MUST have seen The Karate Kid. 'Wax on, wax off'?"

Lunch over and we pack up all the gear and set off in search of that most welcome of sights: a road. The shifting sands had not finished with us however, and it took us another two hours of getting stuck, shovelling, digging, towing, and pushing before we were reunited with the blessed tarmac.

Yes! The Ambassador's turn to get stuck, and MY turn to give HIM some advice on which gear ratio to select.

With the temperature in the high 30's, the sun beating down, and being over 900m above sea level, this was thirsty, tiring work.

We did eventually find the road, and everyone got home safely. We all filed into the Diplomatic Quarter and gladly accepted the Ambassador's invitation to the Residence for some refreshments and a well-earned sit down.

This is the image of desert driving that I want to remember.


Carol said...

In spite of the vehicles getting bogged down, it sounds and looks like everyone had a great time!


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