(The bad news: We lost our camera before we were able to save the photos from the second half of our trip to Dubai. 😦
The good news: It took me so long to get around to writing this post that we found the camera, and we have photos again. Yay!)
They call it a desert “safari,” but it’s really more like a desert “overnight.” Either way, we were looking forward to it. After an hour-plus drive during which I slept like a baby, our first desert activity began when our shuttle dropped us off at the edge of the desert where we hopped into an SUV. (We just didn’t know it had begun, as we thought we were simply transferring vehicles to continue with our journey!) Once aboard, our driver shocked us when he cranked up the music and hit the gas. It’s known as “dune bashing” for a reason. We went careening over sand dunes and through the valleys between them, our driver swerving and skidding and sending up great plumes of sand like a water-skier does with water. It was all we could do just to hang on, and at one point, Stephanie was launched so far out of her seat that her head bumped the ceiling.
We were dropped off at the edge of a desert camp where we got to try some more things out before the evening got underway. Erik and I were especially interested in checking out the sandboarding. After lurking around a deserted hill, we were finally given some very used snowboards and absolutely no instruction whatsoever. Fortunately a day at Ski Dubai and (for me at least) a lifetime of skateboarding had armed us with the ability to figure it out. We took turns overcoming the incredible friction of our un-waxed snowboards enough to slide down the hill. We even managed a couple of impressive stops at the bottom.
Up next was a camel ride. We waited for 20 minutes in order to ride a camel in a 30 ft. circle for about 60 seconds. Fun for sure, but also kind of a good thing we had done a longer version in Petra (Jordan) several years prior.
In the center of the camp were tables low to the ground with carpets to sit on, all arranged around a center stage. We got some seats and some Arabian snacks (all I remember is the hummus), and checked out the other offerings before the dinner show. There were traditional Arab costumes to try on, and Stephanie had some beautiful henna work done on her hand.
After they turned all 200 or so of us loose on the Arabian barbeque buffet, the show got underway. It started with a guy in multi-layered skirts who whirled at full speed for about 20 minutes without falling over or vomiting, all while spinning his skirts (which sometimes lit up) into artful patterns. It was truly amazing. He was a basket-juggler/dancer who only had one basket when he came out, yet he somehow multiplied the one into eight of them! And of course, it wouldn’t be an Arabian show without an accomplished belly dancer. We were expecting a troupe of dancers considering the size of both the stage and the audience, but she held her own.
It turned out that only Erik, Stephanie and I were doing the full overnight adventure. While everyone else departed, they put us in a striped, Arabian tent labeled “Exclusive Lounge” to wait. One side was open, and there were more Arabian carpets on the ground and a table (with chairs this time!) to sit around. They also brought us a hookah filled with shisha which is flavored tobacco. Now usually, I can’t stand anything tobacco-related, but this water pipe really cooled and smoothed the apple-flavored smoke. I liked the flavor, but not being a smoker, it made me cough more and more until I finally gave up.
We would have loved to spend the night in the “exclusive” tent, but they set us up with a couple of standard camping-style tents instead. Meanwhile, the locals just stacked up some carpets and slept under the stars. We’re thinking that next time that’s totally the way to go! They gave us flashlights so we could find the bathroom once they turned off the generator for the night. It was only as we tried to get some sleep that we finally realized we were directly in the take-off path of Dubai airport. Somehow, though, we fell asleep with the planes climbing overhead every few minutes. In the morning, they brought us a tray with tea, toast, butter and jam, and hard-boiled eggs which we ate in our exclusive tent.
Oh, I almost forgot; this wasn’t exactly the most organized event we had ever attended, but the people were very accommodating, and here’s another example: The night before, we were supposed to settle up with our driver. The only problem was that no one told us it was cash-only, and all we had was credit. Our driver turned out to be very cool about it. He paid out of his own pocket, and then took us to an ATM on our way to fetch our luggage and change hotels.
We only had one more big Dubai attraction left to do; the biggest one in the world, you might say. On our last full day, we went to the top of the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world.