You can’t go to the desert without a desert safari! This was the highlight of my time in the Emirates. A driver picks you up from Abu Dhabi and takes you an hour into the heart of the desert in a Hummer. First you meet some camels (another first for me!) and take some selfies, of course!
Then you get back into the Hummer and the driver does some sand duning while you hold on to your life in the Hummer. This is actually the hobby of most Emirati men – they take their toys (Hummers, SUVs, luxury cars) into the desert and ride or race each other in the sand. It felt like I was on a roller coaster, and you are likely to get sick if you have a sensitive stomach. I had to hold on to the handle the entire time, hoping secretly that the Hummer wouldn’t flip over.
Afterwards you are taken to a bedouin tent, filled with mehndi artists, belly dancers and the traditional gun/sword dancers. We got to see a few falcons, the national bird of the UAE. Their eyes were covered which made me a bit weary but my friend assured me that they were well taken care of since they are the national bird. Later they let the falcons fly and they returned on their own.
We were also able to sand surf and ride a camel. Riding a camel freaks me out! So I opted to just sit on the camel for a photo. My biggest fear is to be thrown off a camel, and close up camels are pretty cute animals. I didn’t want to burden the camel, so I just petted him as we posed together.
The desert sunset is stunning, and you can stand there taking it in for a while as the entire sky turns orange. I climbed to the top of the sand dune, which is quite a difficult feat, and sat there as the sun set. It’s amazing how quickly it gets cold once the sun is gone. The sand almost feels like cold water.
In the bedouin tent we were served a Middle Eastern buffet, with Basmati rice, lentil curry, naan, chicken curry… wait, are we in India?
Turns out that Emirati cuisine is basically the same as the food I grew up on. It was all delicious!
Next stop inside the bedouin tent was to see the mehndi artist. We had a Eastern African woman draw beautiful patterns on our hand with henna.
We then enjoyed the rest of the time beneath the stars, enjoying the traditional performances by a belly dancer, and gun/sword dancing by Emirati men.
It was a whole day of fun in the desert. The guide/driver you go with makes a big difference. My friend had taken numerous visitors to the desert with this driver, so he was genuine and hung out with us for the most of the evening. It was great hearing his story about how he had come to Abu Dhabi and the 3 little daughters he left behind in Lebanaon. The reality is that most people who work in the UAE are not Emirati. They are all immigrants usually with a heart breaking story of how they are supporting their families on a one-man income. Emirati citizens are given money from the UAE government which means they are wealthy without even trying. Oh, the irony!
The best part of travelling for me is the people I come across and sharing in their stories. It was a wonderful day of adventure and learning in the desert.