Dune Bashing in the Emerati Desert


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Middle East » United Arab Emirates » Abu Dhabi
November 15th 2012
Published: November 15th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

So, this trip has been a complete whirlwind so far. After a half week of frantic last minute preparations, I hopped a flight to Dubai via DC. Checked into my hotel in Dubai Mall, grabbed dinner with colleagues, had a few drinks, and then turned in for the night. The next morning we were supposed to leave at 5:50 am for the airport so we could catch a flight to Dammam, Saudi Arabia. I went to bed at midnight and, naturally, was finished sleeping by 3:40 am. Gotta love jetlag combined with being subconsciously aware of an early wake up call. Anyways, we got into Saudi just fine, drove over to Dharhan, had our meeting, drove back to Damman, and flew off to Abu Dhabi at 6:00 pm. This little field trip from Saudi lasted just over 16 hours door-to-door. If you’ve read my previous entry on Saudi, you already know that I did everything I could to compress this visit into the Kingdom.

The next few days in Abu Dhabi were largely uneventful; mostly spent going to a conference, sitting in meetings, working an exhibition, attending dinners, etc. And then, on the last day of the visit, we got a free day. My boss and I opted to head out on a desert safari. I’ve always wanted to experience Dune Bashing, and finally I had my opportunity. For those of you unfamiliar with it, basically it is one of the most hair-raising, adrenaline-pumping, beyond-gnar activities I’ve ever tried.

Our Indian driver picked us up in a Toyota LandCruiser (complete with rollcage) and drove us south about 80 km toward the desert. When we reached the end of the paved road, he jumps out and begins to deflate the tires to increase the surface area (I think) in contact with the sand dunes. From that point on, this guy drove our 4x4 the way I probably tried to drive the video games at Chuck-E-Cheese when I was like 7. Picture nothing but rolling sand dunes as far as you can see. No other cars. No camels here. No trees. Just sand. The driver would accelerate up the front face of a massive dune, only to have it plummet off the back of it, eventually landing (somewhat) softly in the powdery sand below. Then he would guide the car up to the top of a dune, riding terrifyingly close to the edge that dropped off sharply just to the side of my window. Instinctively, I was leaning away from the drop, as though that would keep the SUV from rolling over. Just at that moment, the driver would let the right two wheels fall off the cliff, and the car began to shift from 90 degrees vertical to about 45 as we rolled to the right. As the car was about to begin its barrel roll, he would downshift and slam the wheel to the left which caused the engine to groan, the back of the car to swing right, stabilizing the car, and a cloud of sand to engulf the windows. It was traumatizing. But he did this over and over again, as we worked our way through the barren desert. At one calm section, I asked him if he had to take a training class to do this. He just laughed mischievously.

Here's a short look when I could use my phone....



Eventually, we reached camp where they throw nightly barbeques under the clear blanket of the desert sky. I had a little fun getting dressed up in traditional dish dash and keffiyeh, took a ride around on a camel, and then headed up to the top of a massive sand dune with my sandboard in tow. I was SO excited to finally get the chance to try this out. Sitting atop the peak, I felt obligated to just chill and soak in the surroundings for a few minutes. The wind was howling, whipping stinging sand against bare skin. As far as you could see, perfectly contoured lines shaped the wavelike dunes. No sound coming from anywhere; so amazingly peaceful. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that the board I had been given was too short for my weight, and I couldn’t help but sink into the unconsolidated sand which kept me from ever getting a solid run in. Plus, there’s the fact that without a chairlift, climbing sand dunes in the desert sun drains you pretty quickly. So, all in all, the actually ride was a bit of a let-down, but the experience, unforgettable.

Then we headed back to Abu Dhabi for a final dinner. My flight didn’t leave until 3:40 am, so I convinced some colleagues to stay up late with me, but then upon arrival at the airport found out it was delayed another hour. So, I caught the first leg to Turkey, then sprinted through the airport only to squeeze onto my flight here to London where I arrived completely delirious, unaware of what time zone I should answer to. Had a few meetings here, then it’s back to the States tomorrow. There’s no place like home.


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16th November 2012

Great post Jim. Stuff I never dreamed of! Thank you.

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