Tag Archives: desert safari

Days 7 & 8: Desert hooping, camels and dune bashing

11 Jan

My trip to Dubai wouldn’t have been complete without a camel ride, sand boarding and hula hooping in the desert, so I just had to splurge and spend the 250 dirhams on a desert safari. It was more than worth the money and a truly surreal experience.

Our morning started out at the crack of dawn yesterday. After gobbling down some breakfast, Gabbi and I headed down to the lobby. Someone from the desert safari was supposed to pick us up between 7:30 and 8 a.m. from our hotel, but I was more than skeptical after the phone call I had with the company at the time of booking.

The man had a heavy accent on the phone, and sounded like he was driving as he was taking down my information. After asking my name, hotel, room number and how many people, he told me what time he would be there and quickly hung up the phone. I guess since I am so used to the formality in the U.S., the fact that he didn’t even ask for a credit card number frightened me.

But, sticking to his word, a dark heavy-set man walked into the hotel lobby at around 7:45 a.m. He walked right up to me.

“Are you Rebecca Burton?” the man, who we later found out was named Victor, asked.

“Yes,” I said.

Without one more word he signaled us to follow him and we all walked quickly to the 4×4 Jeep that is used for dune bashing.

Victor informed us that the other two people who were supposed to join us on the trip had cancelled last minute. So we surprisingly got a VIP safari.

After driving for about 30 minutes, we stopped at a gas station. Victor walked in and came out 5 minutes later with some waters, orange juices and sandwiches for us to eat.

He then drove about 15 minutes more, and without warning simply drove off the road and into the seemingly never-ending dunes. After passing the UAE military base we drove another 10 minutes or so until we saw one man, dressed in traditional desert wear, standing with a single camel.

“Now, it is time for the camel ride,” Victor said. “After that, I will take you where we can sand board.”

Victor took some pictures and short video of us mounting the camel with my phone and his iPad and then got back in the jeep and drove ahead as we were guided on the camel.

The serenity was indescribable. The man who was guiding us did not speak English, so not a word was said. The only sound was the sand blowing from the gustier-than-normal wind that day. The desert did not have cacti, but rather little melons the size of apples scattered about the horizon. We saw other camels, which looked a great deal skinner than the one we were riding, wandering the dunes.

After about a 30-minute peaceful ride, we got back in the jeep and headed out even further to the “real desert” as Victor described it. The dunes were bigger, and the land seemed even more deserted without a tire track in sight.

“The dunes were facing the other way yesterday,” Victor said. “They are always changing.”

For some reason, this thought really stuck with me, and I began to ponder deeper meaning as we continued on.

Next came the sand boarding. A sand board looks just like a wakeboard or snowboard, and the premise is pretty self explanatory. You stand up and glide down the dunes. I succeeded my first try, but after the first walk back up the dunes, I was finished and completely out of breath. Walking up a desert sand dune is a great way to lose 10 pounds. Victor asked if I wanted to go again.

“I would, but that walk back up killed me,” I said.

“No problem, I will drive down and get you and bring you back up,” he said.

Awesome, I thought. I gave it a few more tries. An admitted adrenaline junkie, I like anything that involves motion and boards.

But, my usual love of motion became motion sickness during the dune bashing. Victor really knew how to manage to drive the jeep really fast up and down the countless dunes without getting stuck or flipping. But, my stomach didn’t manage.

Note to self: dune bash on an empty stomach next time.

Nonetheless the safari was everything I would’ve wanted and worth the money. Victor stopped at another high dune to take pictures. Gabbi pulled out her hoop so he could take pictures of us hooping. The photos came out great, and he said he wanted to feature us on the company’s website. We graciously agreed. He told us this was the first time anyone had ever brought a hula hoop on the trip.

On the way home we all made small talk, and Victor told us horror stories of getting stuck, flips and deaths that happened from time to time in his 14 years with the company.

“One time I got stuck and when I tried to dig out the sand, my whole arm was burned,” he said, referring to the summer months when the desert reaches about 140 degrees.

To my surprise, I learned that the roll bars had only been installed in the jeeps two years ago due to several deaths. You would think they would’ve thought of that solution a bit earlier.

At the end of the day I had an unforgettable experience and never would’ve guessed two months ago that a desert safari was anywhere in my near future.

Last night at work was quite busy since Thursday is the start of the weekend there. I really think hula hooping is catching on here. I recognize more faces than not and have had more than 20 people ask about lessons. Goal achieved, except for finding someone who teaches classes here.

After the busy night, Lenny, Andy, Gabbi and I went out for a couple drinks at a beach club called Baraciti. With booming house music, and outdoor beds lining the beach, it reminded me of Club Bed in Miami. We all sipped on cocktails, smoked sheesha and compared and contrasted the different countries we are all from. It is really an eye-opening experience to hang out and have true conversations with people who live on the other side of the world. Sometimes, I feel Americans are isolated on this continent.

Andy said he would love to hire Americans for more festivals, but the work visas are too hard to obtain.

Today’s hula play area was just as crowded as yesterday and went smoothly even though Lenny wasn’t there to work the lights and sound. I stepped in and with Andy guiding me on the phone, I somehow managed to get them working. I would write about today in more detail but this post is already far too long and I have to be up in just a few hours to tour the world’s tallest building and be the first person to hoop there! Until tomorrow (my last day in Dubai!)

Or the next day, I have to catch my plane home right after work.

Night folks.


Days 5 & 6: Learning about Arab culture from a former rockstar

9 Jan

After a couple of cocktails at the first bar that seems to put alcohol in their drinks in Dubai, I was too tired to write last night. But, here is a recap of day 5 of my Dubai adventure.

Before work yesterday, Gabbi and I went to a restaurant in the Bur Dubai souk called Bait al Wakeel. Her tour Dubai book recommended it because it is one of Dubai’s oldest buildings and is located along the creek. The view was beautiful and really gave a feel of old Dubai, similar to the Gold Souk we visited before. Wooden water taxis glided across the water packed with people sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Although the food was no better than mediocre, simply sitting along the creek was a nice change from being at a mall for 6 hours a day. Work was steady, and once again I saw genuine interest from many in the art of hula hooping, including two British women about my age who picked it up quickly in 6 inch heels.

After work the whole crew got burgers and then Gabbi and I went with Lenny, the sound guy, to his favorite bar. Although alcohol is illegal in Dubai, there are loopholes with bars in hotels and club compounds, and they are able to serve it. The bar was called Trader Vic’s and mimicked an island tiki bar with rum-based cocktails. And, unlike the posh bar we went to the first day on Jumeirah beach, these bartenders were generous with the alcohol. This also could have been because Lenny was a regular and everyone knew him on a first name basis.

After chatting with Lenny for a bit, I learned that he used to be a band member in the biggest rock band in the Middle East, Juliana Down. But, after signing with Sony in the U.S., who wanted the band to use backup tracks, Lenny quit the band in the spirit of keeping real rock and roll alive. I felt honored to be hanging out with someone who followed his passion of alternative music, even after growing up in such a conservative place. I later googled his band and discovered that they were written about multiple times in Rolling Stone. Maybe I should’ve gotten an autograph!

But, as we sat there talking loud over live traditional Spanish music, Lenny was answering any questions we had about the Arab culture. To my surprise, women in the bar were dressed like they were going to a club in Miami, tight dresses and skyscraper heels. He explained to us that in bars, the rules of covering your shoulders and knees don’t really apply. If you swear at anyone, or give them the finger though, you could easily go to jail. Holding a man’s hand or dancing with him in the parking lot could also result in jail time if you’re caught.

But, the most interesting and surprising fact I learned on this night out was that here in Dubai, a camel’s life is worth more than a human’s. While a human’s life is monetarily worth about 200,000 dirhams, a camel’s is worth 800,000 dirhams. Weird.

Funny how bar chats can become educational experiences.

Today, after sleeping in past breakfast I went to the China Mart with Madgy, another hula helper who has appeared on Arab’s Got Talent and teaches acrobatics in Cairo, Egypt. China Mart is a big warehouse filled with stores that sell merchandise made in China. I bought a cheesy souvenir snow globe and a case for my phone at only 5 bucks. But, the stuff made in China was anything you could think of, including fake iPods and iPads.

At work tonight I had another repeat visitor, a little girl about 5 years old who was brought to the play area by her nanny. She followed me around, constantly asking to do the routine I taught her yesterday. She then ditched the hoop and just started dancing and saying she wanted to be just like me. It feels good to be a role model and really touched me for her to say that. But, enough with all the mushy stuff, I have to get to sleep stat for my desert safari at the crack of dawn tomorrow! Stay tuned for pictures of sand, camels and the like!