We are sardine-style in a Land Cruiser in stark, straight desert, listening to some terrible song about American Apparel underwear and being “so down”. Bad US pop music is a weird, weird way to start an excursion to something fairly exclusive to the desolate dunes of Arabia, but we’re rolling with the soundtrack as well as the golden sandscape. We fellows are headed to a dairy farm, y’all! But it’s the camel supplanting the cow, and this is going to be capital letters, Tony the Tiger GREAT!
Whoops- our driver, Rashid, has stopped us to deflate the tires. I’m chugging the last of this 1000 mL of Pelegrino because
- I only had ten minutes for lunch so I did the buffet beeline thinking it would be efficient but not, for example, the $70 that it also turned out to be. When the bill came, I decided it warranted a to-go water, A big one. Also,
- the lack of desert porcelain does not seem immediately pressing (addendum: it was), and finally,
- the bottle doesn’t have a cap and I don’t want to hold a volatile, swishing glass water bottle between my knees for the inevitable off-roading we’re bound to do.
The scene: fences line the roads so we don’t hit gazelles and we are uncomfortably close to a bunch of signs advertising shooting ranges. A military city- whatever terrifying thing that means- lies nearby and every once in awhile a fancy-tank helicopter invades the skyline. There are camels on the road! Camels are not moose but I wouldn’t want to hit one at the culmination of a high-speed chase. They are big buggers.
Soon we exit the vehicle at the farm and get what are pretty much the best photo ops of my adult life. Check it:
When we’re done, we do something called dune blasting. This is a thing that should come advertised like one of those dysfunction drugs, with a list of side effects scrolling tiny but endlessly across the concierge’s brochure. For starters, it’s very easy to get concussed when your head blows up from the sheer adrenaline of it all. It’s also conceivable to permanently damage your knuckle nerves because they definitely lose a lot of the blood from all the clutching. On the other hand, it’s a great way to practice your conversational German as your Land Cruiser is two-wheel teetering over what Rashid describes as a series of 65-foot dunes. This is because the German next to you will be muttering “scheisse, scheisse” (one of the scatological swear words) as you plummet to the bottom leaving naught but a granular wake and the echoes of cross-cultural screaming. And then do it again. And again. And again, ad literal nauseum. So insane, but so incredible.
When we finally pulled up to our desert dinner destination, it was chill time for hand henna and a little bit of camel riding. Have you ever seen camels walk? Here, look:
It’s the most graceful yet ungainly gait I’ve witnessed across the animal kingdom, and what that turned out to mean for the ride is that it was a neat little rolling walk until the dismount, which is when the camel just detaches all its leg joints and kerplops in the sand. Net effect? I smooshed my startled face into the camel behind me, then gave a Mary Catherine Gallagher triumphant salute.
After dinner and some outdoor spotlit belly dancing (not from me, from a professional) we smoked some double apple shisha (like a water bong hookah without all the drugs) in the name of intrepid traveling.
So the desert is awesome, and I mean that in the true sense: of the experience inspiring the wide-eyed, humble awe. Camels, with their perpetual anthropomorphic smiles, are pretty great, too- and all in all this was exactly the brain-waker I needed. In fact, forget the “Tony the Tiger GREAT” of the beginning of this post.
The Abu Dhabi desert safari is decidedly Joe Camel smokin’.