Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dune bashing

Before I continue, there is something I've been meaning to write about for ages - it counts as one of my pet peeves when travelling:

Moving walkways in airports - the operative words here being 'moving' and 'walk' - are there to help you cover longer distances within an airport quicker, while walking and being in motion. You'll be amazed at the amount of eejits who use them as, I don't know, escalators. They stand there - and not just there - but in the middle of the thing, so you, the person who is walking brusquely along it as you should, cannot get past. Grrrrr. It goes a long way to explaining why there is an obesity epidemic in this day and age. God forbid anyone actually use the legs god gave them and walk somewhere.

Our 'English Patient' experience in the desert had me feeling more like an A&E patient to begin with. Our concierge failed to mention that all the lovely romantic dining and camel riding in the desert would be preceded by something called 'dune bashing'. I should have known that trouble lay ahead by the way our boy-racer driver, Dojeeb (written phonetically), appeared to disregard the basic rules of the road en route. I gripped the sides of the seat as he sped past camels and bits of desert brush as I tried (in vain) to take a series of what turned out to be blurred atmospheric shots. I reasoned he'd get us to our desert camp and we'd be rid of him soon enough, so I tried not to worry about it. Oh, how very wrong I was.

Once we entered the desert - a particularly hilly dune-filled part, he told us and our two companions to fasten our seat belts for a spot of dune bashing. Like us they had no idea we'd be doing it, but all four of us dutifully ensured we were strapped in, and braced ourselves.

Dojeeb turned up the Arabic techno he was playing in the car, and then along with about 10 other accumulated 4x4's (packed with tourists such as ourselves) proceeded at breakneck speed to test the absolute angles at which a Toyota can skim the edges of impossibly steep sand dunes without flipping over. This included driving nose first down almost vertical drops into what appeared to be our certain doom, before he'd level up, stamp on the gas, and we'd be careening around another bend.

Rollercoaster doesn't quite describe it, because on a rollercoaster you have the vague (and perhaps misplaced) assurance that the whole apparatus is built to withstand such contrived danger. Looking over at Dojeeb and the maniacal glint in his eye as he drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other - occasionally handling the gears, occasional floating in mid-air - well, I wasn't so sure. 'This is real life not an amusement ride,' I thought, 'we are going to die.'

The nightmare lasted for an hour and a half, during which we had three or so breaks to vomit or take pictures. On one such break I asked Dojeeb how long one had to train before becoming a desert driver of this sort, and he replied that it depended on the person - some took six months, others ... , and at this point he shook his head as if to indicate some just didn't make it.

I wasn't sure if by this he meant they didn't have what it took, or if these unfortunate souls had died trying. "If you are scared, you cannot do this kind of driving," he said with a solemn, and somewhat proud look on his face. He didn't mention that insanity, and a blatant disregard for the safety of one's passengers and oneself were most likely the other overriding requirements, but he didn't have to.

Had I been a kid, I would have loved it. And I reckon there are a lot of adults who love it too - it is kind of thrilling. But our concierge didn't tell us we were doing it, so we weren't prepared. We also weren't asked basic safety questions such as: Are you pregnant? Do you have a bad back? Do you dislike the taste of vomit? etc. These are pretty important things to ask someone before putting them into a situation like that.

But ultimately we weren't hurt, and it was kind of well, fun's not the right word - an experience. Also, Dojeeb and his ilk seem to be well trained for it - those are some serious off-road driving skills. The Toyota's they use also appear to be large well-balanced vehicles built to withstand a fair amount of punishment - I'm just not sure I was.

Later, on a lot less frightening note, I got my wish and we rode on a camel - and that was a real treat. The advice I was given by Louise rang true - you have to hold on tight because those buggers lurch forwards and then backwards as they stand up, and you have to be careful you don't topple forwards over their heads.

Dinner in the large desert camp was amazing - really good food prepared on the barbecue with lots of Eastern dishes like houmus, oven bread, and the most delicious potato salad I've ever had. Along with about 60 other people - mostly Hong Kong tourists for some reason, I can't exactly describe it as intimate and romantic, but it was fun. The belly dancing entertainment was fantastic too, and she managed to get most of us up on the central dance area for the last number.

It was a genuinely enjoyable way to spend an afternoon and evening - barring the dune bashing thing. If you go to Dubai, I highly recommend it as a way of experiencing something other than the beaches and the shopping, which, if we are honest, one can do anywhere in the world.

1 comment:

Aristocatty said...

I simply had to comment on your blog. I experienced my first desert safari on Friday and I was a lot luckier than you. In the sense that I knew exactly what I was in for and it didn't turn my stomach like most carnival rides do. What impressed me most was that we had a lady driver!! I think I was rather fascinated since I can't drive at all, on or off-road :-)