It seems odd to me now that, considering all the time we’ve lived in Dubai, we had never been for a desert safari. Now that we have and this gaping void in our lives has been satisfactorily filled, I doubt I would opt to go on another any time soon.
The germ of the idea took root when another family – cousins of ours who have grandparents over – asked us if we wanted to come along. “You’ve probably done it loads of times,” was their theory, “but it should be fun.”
Not bothering to amend our assumed status of desert safari veterans, we gladly congregated one afternoon at their house, where a company van picked us up and drove us somewhere deep into the wilderness of the desert.
“Is it nearly over?” I asked after a while. “And when’s dinner served?” I received seven stares, plus a snort from the driver who didn’t want to take his eyes off the road. “This isn’t the safari, see,” my aunt explained kindly. “The safari hasn’t started yet.” So I sat quietly for the rest of the journey until we finally pulled up on the edge of the road, where rows upon rows of four-wheel drive cars were parked for as long as the eye could see.
We got off and stood about, taking photos for a few minutes, when suddenly a man rushed up, very flustered, and, gesticulating frenziedly and muttering, ushered us all unceremoniously inside one of the cars. “Hurry up, hurry up!” he shouted, waving his arms about, and without waiting to check whether we were all safely sat down or not, took off. When the car was in the middle of the desert, he finally slowed down and turned around apologetically. “We’re not allowed to park on the road,” he explained. “Can’t stop there for too long.” The explanation was lost on us because we were all trying to fasten seat belts at the same time; driving up and down dunes with unpredictable gradients, especially as the speed we’d been going at was dizzying to say the least.
We started again, a bit more slowly, and I was just beginning to think how peaceful the landscape and the drive was, when we abruptly plunged down a particularly high dune. “Aaaah!” screamed my cousin. “Eek!” squealed my aunt and uncle. “Make it stop,” I moaned. “Ooh!” gasped the grandparents, huge smiles on their faces, evidently enjoying every moment of it.
Over the course of the next hour or so, we were tossed about in every direction possible, mum had to retrieve her glasses from under the seat thrice, heads were banged together and I extinguished my stock of emergency chewing gum in an unsuccessful attempt to ward off the motion sickness. I’ve been thinking of visiting Ferrari World sometime soon, but now I’ve thought better of it. I’ve had my fill of roller-coaster rides for the moment.
At last, the car puttered to a halt in front of the “desert camp”, where we were to spend the rest of the evening. One by one, we unsteadily filed out of the car. I stepped out groggily, clutching my cousin for balance. Our driver poked his head out of the window. “Thank you and goodbye,” he announced mechanically, and revved up his car. “Thank you,” beamed grandma at him, looking undoubtedly the freshest of us all.
“When can we do this again?” grandpa gushed, glancing hopefully at my aunt.
“Maybe, I don’t know, after five years,” declared my uncle firmly, and we marched off into the camp, where majlises and comfy cushions greeted us. There were hundreds of other people milling about, too, and a man standing next to a sizzling pot beckoned us over.”Welcome snacks,” he pronounced, and indicated to us to help ourselves to the most delicious falafels I have ever tasted. There were plenty of things to do; we took photos perched atop camels and guzzled down shawarmas from the shawarma tent. A lady made some beautiful henna patterns on my hand and it was all like a scene out of Arabian Nights. The henna started itching, though, then stinging crazily after a few minutes – possibly some added chemicals at work; I’ve never had this sort of reaction with henna my grandma makes from her own plants.
A spectacular belly dancing and whirling dervish show followed; my cousin and I tried being whirling dervishes and doing a sort of spinning dance later but had to give it up quickly when we both tripped and landed flat on our tummies.
It all ended with a most satisfactory dinner of pitta bread with hummus and kebabs. In response to grandpa’s question – I’m game for the falafel and the camel riding bits anytime; only if perhaps we go easy on the actual desert safari part.