I’ve read a lot about these excursions and heard different takes on them, but I have to say, it was WAY better than I expected it to be. I think it officially became my favorite memory of Abu Dhabi thus far. Our driver, Mehmood, picked us up at the Sheraton Corniche at about 3:15 in the afternoon. Once inside the Toyota Land Cruiser with black tinted windows, we met Aussie couple Andy and Alison, who were shocked to hear my name was Sydney. “Ahh! We’re FROM Sydney!” Andy excitedly told us. During the hour drive to the desert we learned all about them and what they’re doing in Abu Dhabi. A very nice couple.
We took the exit off the highway for Al Khalim, which is little more than a tiny Mexican-feeling leftover of a village from an earlier time of Arab life. We learned from Mehmood on the drive home that these villages used to be local Arab villages and to this day they will still honor their past by taking a several-week trip to stay there once a year to camp in the desert and enjoy the simpler things in life (much like our version of camping, I’d imagine).
We arrived first at a camel farm a few hundred yards off the paved road. Camels are much larger in person than they appear in pictures. Ours were having some lunch so they didn’t seem very interested in us, but I thought they were awesome!
At the camel farm we heard a hissing sound and turned to watch our drivers letting the air out of the tires of the vehicles (this is apparently to help the car stay upright and not roll on the steep inclines). We said goodbye to the camels and their masters and headed off for the dune bashing.
Let me stop here for a moment to say that I have been in many a jeep in the woods of the States, going on inclines that I thought were steep… Dune bashing is so far beyond that… there were at least three separate occasions when I KNEW we were going to roll the car. We didn’t, but I swear to God we were even with the mountain and it is beyond reason that the car remained on its wheels. It was the coolest experience I’ve had in a LONG time. I asked Mehmood if he has ever rolled a car out there. His answer? "Sometimes."
Not only was it exhilarating, but it was absolutely beautiful out there in the desert making new tracks with no buildings or other people in sight. Amazing. The pictures can never in a million years do this experience justice, but they are worth posting in their own right.
We stopped to take pictures mid-way through the dune bashing and I fell in love with the sand. It is so much finer than any sand I’ve ever met and when you stand up you can just brush it off your hands and clothes and it actually comes off. It was so awesome.
After about an hour of dune bashing we made our way to the camp/compound place where we would be having our dinner. Right off the bat we got on camels!!! (I know, all I could think of was Kim from work who I promised I would send a picture to of me on a camel!) They smelled REALLY bad, and mine had a face mask on (presumably to keep him from biting his riders as he was in quite a foul mood) and had flies surrounding his face and neck. But it was really cool. Throughout this trip I had to keep grounding myself by thinking that here I was, in the desert, half-way around the world, riding a camel on Christmas Eve. How many people get this opportunity???
After the camel ride we made our way down into the camp (by this time I’d taken off my shoes for good as even in flipflops your feet sink so much that you can’t possibly walk in shoes). We had our first taste of Arabic tea and got to sit on pillows at little tables. As with everything here (except driving), it was very slow and relaxed. We found that we had an hour until dinner and took one of the men up on his offer to dress us in traditional dress. That was a blast and I think Stu looks so handsome as an Emirati!
They lit a fire in the pit and we all sat around it on more pillows talking with our fellow trippers and sharing stories of lives worlds apart. We met a Canadian Family from Nova Scotia. The Dad, Dave is here with his wife Cindy to work in the education department. He got this particular job a day after he retired from 30 years of teaching. Their teenage daughters were visiting for a week from Canada and came to camp with Santa and reindeer hats to celebrate the Christmas Spirit (at one point they even had the reindeer ears on the camel… that was pretty funny).
Another couple were German and visiting for a week. Only the mom spoke fragmented English while the Dad and 11-year-old son entertained themselves with sticks and the fire. Of course our fellow car sharers were there, as were a couple from Austria, also here on vacay. It was great to sit around a fire with a group of strangers, learning about each other, and after such a short period of time, feeling like life-long friends. Dave had the idea to sing Christmas Carols and we all sang a lovely desert-y rendition of Silent Night in both English and German. What an experience.
Dinner was announced and was served buffet style. We had grilled chicken and beef, Biryani rice, hommos, some sort of cilantro salsa thing (which was my favorite), some mixed veggies, and of course, Arabic bread. It was really good and we ate at our little tables on the ground, enjoying the food (although freezing as by this time the temperatures had dropped into the 50s in the desert night). After dinner we made our way back to the fire pit to enjoy shisha and more conversation until the belly dancer arrived.
The belly dancer was good fun and she really put on a great show. At one point she beckoned me up on stage with her and “taught” me some moves up there. At the end of the show she invited everyone onto the stage to dance and Stu was a belly-dancing natural! :) We both had so much fun (although Stu couldn’t help but make a reference to our favorite, Anthony Bourdain, and what he’d have to say about this tour-bus-vacay style entertainment in which we were indulging). We ended the night with chatting and then got back in the cars to head back to Abu Dhabi.
We had such a great time and I feel so thankful for the people I met and the conversations I was so privileged to have on Christmas Eve, in the desert, with good people, good food, and such a good time. It is something I will not soon forget.
The hut where the camel herders stayed.
Me with the camels.
Mehmood deflating our tires.
See the car disappearing?
It was sooooo much fun!
Yep, that's facing straight downhill.
Stu in the dunes.
Making the first footprints in this pristine environment.
I just couldn't get over the sand.
Sitting on the edge of a dune!
Stu making a sand angel!
Sand angel for Christmas!
The camp area.
Stu on his camel!
My camel standing up!
I rode a camel!
Our shadows during the ride!
The camel sitting down. Scary! Haha.
Our fellow car riders.
We climbed to the top of a dune to get this pic of the camp site.
Sunset in the desert.
Looking like locals!
Isn't he a handsome man? :)
The group by the campfire.
The belly dancer.
Trying my hand (and Belly???) at belly dancing.
It was so much fun.
Stu the dancing fool!
Stu reading Kaden "The Night Before Christmas" before bedtime.
Santa Papa reading Kaden "Humphrey's First Christmas" about a camel who was at Jesus' birth.