So on this day we journey far afield from all that which we know: luxury hotels, a car held together with bubble yum, air conditioning that requires a down parka just to maintain body temperature.
We are going to take a trip into the desert, the Arabian Desert, which is so large, it touches on five countries and is one of the largest deserts in the world. This I learned in the car on the way in; didn’t do any research prior, I like to be surprised. I booked a tour with Platinum Heritage, and I do not regret it one bit.
But first! We are picked up the hotel in a Mercedes G Wagon, which is what we are going to be using for the whole of the safari. Again, not to shabby for my taste. I grab shotgun because I want the best view and to ask questions all day long. I am probably the single worst nightmare of any tour guide. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was on some underground database of insatiably curious customers. They have categories like: asks too many questions (askholes), doesn’t participate, drunk, annoying, cheap, picky eater, know it all, big dummy, and so on. And you are rated on all of these charming qualities and then there’s a chance for comments from tour leaders. It’s a low down Traveler Yelp (Trelp) for tour guides. Anyway.
I’m the front seat for the hour long ride to the protected desert area for this safari. I am so excited I am almost twitching. My mom is in the backseat; we both watch the city disappear behind us, passing warehouses that give way to camel race tracks.
Upon pulling into the sheikh owned area, I see Indian Jones style Land Rovers and I immediately wish I had a whip and leather jacket. So badass. After some chit chat, we get on our way with another couple. Two lovely men who clearly didn’t want to be there and I couldn’t figure out why they bothered. I know for sure they are in the Trelp because they sucked. They sucked as passengers, they sucked as participants, they just sucked all the way around.
I digress. We cruise over sand dunes, through the desert, endless sand in varying shades of gold. Probably best to wear a seat belt and not be susceptible to motion sickness for this portion of the day. Honestly, I could not get enough of this. Our driver must be respectful of the land so not to damage it. It’s still home to lots of animals, we mustn’t tear it up. No matter how bad I wanted to hit the gas and launch across the dunes.
We saw oryx drinking from the watering holes, and lots of animals and bird poop. I feel like nothing is official if you don’t see poop. Like somehow the animals don’t really live where they say they live, they are carted in for the benefit of the tourists. But once you see poop, you know those animals made themselves at home and really live there. It’s the real deal. Show me the poop and I’ll show you some serious
We stop, and have the chance to get out and climb some hills, take some photos. I find the skull of an Oryx and hold it up over my head, a sacrifice to the sand gods. I now have the power of Grayskull, I am Skeletor.
I loved this, though. I had long since kicked off my flip flops, so I was happy to get my bare feet into the warm, sugary, desert sand.
Few things have made me feel like I was my own Indian Jones, but this did it. Cruising along, hot desert sand kicking up alongside the truck, far from home. I am totally Indiana. See? Same car and everything.
So we do the dunes, and then we see a falcon show. Nothing like a South African teaching me about ancient Middle Eastern falconry methods. Honestly, he left me with more questions than I started with; such is my way. Trelp™ me, go ahead.
After that, the part I was most excited about – the camel rides. Since I was too chicken to do it in Egypt, I was more than happy to do it here. Momma was excited, too, in so far as she can be excited about mounting an otherwise potentially stinky and temperamental creature. Turns out, she was right to be wary.
The long and short of it is this: when they tell you to lean this way or that, just do it. My camel, loving, gentle and my spirit camel, did all he could to ensure I had a lovely journey through the desert. My mother’s camel was resentful and angry, as proven by a series of loud grunts and attempts at dissension from the camel crew. At one point, he would have been guilty of all out mutiny. The camel wrangler got him under control, but I could see as I turned around that my mom was struggling a little bit and perhaps wasn’t having as much fun as I was.
Upon the dismount, the instructions are relatively simple: lean back, hold on. That’s it. I got off my buddy with ease, and turned around just in time to see the camel jerk ever so slightly as my mother’s head whipped back; she looked like a Pez dispenser and I was waiting for the candy to slide out of her throat. She held on with both hands, for dear life. The tour guide and wrangler held onto my mom as she almost had one foot in the sand. I heard another odd noise but I determined that came from my mom and not the camel.
I admit, I stood by while this was happening as camel dismount is not my area of expertise. But in doing so, I was able to take what is perhaps the greatest series of 3 picture I have ever taken. When they say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, trust me when I say that no explanation is needed to describe exactly what was going on.
After the near soft sand landing by camel, we dined in huts under the starts. It was by far and away one of the best meals I have ever had, cooked outside on brick fire pits. Hummus, chicken, vegetables, all of it. Amazing. I wish I could have taken it home with me.
After dinner, we did a little desert, some hookah and some henna. We wrapped it up late, I don’t even know what time, and drive back off into the dessert to our hotel. Fat and happy and thankfully, in one piece.
Fun fact: when I visited, it was at the start of 3 days of mourning as sanctioned by the government as 3 men from the UAE had been killed fighting terrorists in a neighboring country. As such, there was no music on the radio other than classic, and there was no dancing in the safari as was promised on the website. It was ok, thought, I totally understood and respected the decision, not that I could change it. I developed an appreciate for Bach on long drives, too.
My mother – still sweating to death.