When I mentioned to a friend of mine in New York that I was going to the Emirates, his reaction was sharply aghast.
“Oh….I hated the Emirates.”
My heart sank. Why so bad? Was I wasting my time visiting the country?
“I went dune bashing. The driver thundered along the edge of a cliff and I was thinking, ‘No, surely he wouldn’t…’ but then, yes, he does – yanks the wheel to the right and we go flying over the edge. It was the scariest thing I’ve done. I hated the whole experience.”
I was somewhat hesitant following this account, embellished by Megan’s propensity to throw herself from high places.
I’d imagined our tour as simply a cocktail of sand and fuel. Instead, it was a complete “cultural” experience. I place “cultural” in inverted commas because it was a little rushed and box-ticking:
“Now you ride camels, now a dog show, now a falcon show, now look at the goats, now drink Arabian coffee and eat dates, now pat the eagles, now dress up in traditional garb, now watch a 7-minute doco on the history of the Emirates…”
Nevertheless, in a short space of time, I felt I had a glimpse of desert life, and retained an experience more holistic than just adventure sports.
On to the main event… It was somewhat amusing to see our guide, having just demonstrated traditional activities while wearing a Thawb, don a pair of shades and jump behind the wheel of a 4WD.
Dune bashing is a freeform roller coaster, the vehicle’s trajectory materializing in the glint of the driver’s eyes scanning for a suitable embankment. Only once did I feel unsettled: with the weight of the vehicle sliding forwards into a downhill slope and sand kicked through the window.
Overnight I camped under the stars, with a fireplace and chai tea, and in the morning woke to tackle the dunes barefoot. You really can just throw yourself down a near-vertical decline: giant, sliding steps, cushioned by the pillowed sand.
My remaining time in the Emirates was spent visiting a few of the sights of Abu Dhabi: The Grand Mosque, Emirates Palace and the Heritage Village. Again, Abu Dhabi is not really made for walking – so many footpaths have craters from construction, or simply end for no apparent reason.
I’m also discovering Megan’s hangriness – that sudden evaporation of energy that makes a girl wilt unless food be applied immediately. I guess in New York there is food on every corner, but traveling brings irregular mealtimes. I’ve learnt to carry snacks at all times…and that some things really do run on peanuts.