4x4 fun

Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 24.4764, 54.3705

Hot, hot, hot (as high as 45 degrees)

Woke while we were entering the long passage to Abu Dhabi … at least, we were continually passing channel markers on the starboard side. We breakfasted, then went to the lounge to meet our tour group.

At 9:30 or so, we were called and went down to a Toyota LandCruiser, where we were placed with another couple, from England. Paul had shotgun; Keegan sat behind him (next to Jo and Matt); Kyla and I took the rear seats. It was hot -- starting around 35 degrees -- and the air con of the LandCruiser was having a devil of a time keeping the vehicle cool.

The other 50 or 60 people also piled into their LandCruisers, and off we went, in a long caravan of white SUVs. We drove through town (Abu Dhabi looks like the other cities we've seen in UAE: long, wide, strait boulevards, lined with shops and skyscrapers), then out along the waterfront. Massive houses line the land side of the waterfront; we wonder if they used to sit along a parkway. Now, it is a construction zone. It appears that the boulevard is being widened, becoming more a motorway
than a parkway, and a huge resort, with condos and canals, is under construction on the opposite side. The massive homes are losing their views and their park. Maybe they'll be granted new yachts in compensation.

We paused briefly in front of a massive mosque, also under construction, for a photo opp. The best picture, though, I think, was from the motorway, where we could capture all the domes, not from the front, where most of the domes were hidden.

We then turned inland, heading on the road to the center of the country. It was very flat … and we were intrigued by the signs of attempts at agriculture. I took a few photos of the plants, hoping we could identify them later.

After a stop at the loos, we left the main road behind and went towards the desert, near a set of very large, and very well-protected, stables. We had to pause briefly to let a few wandering camels pass, then we left the roads and headed up into the sand dunes. We had a chance to stretch our legs while the drivers deflating the tires, to give us better traction on the sands.

4x4ing on the sand dunes, as sometimes anathema motorized vehicles in the desert is to me, was a lot of fun, I confess. Our driver, too, seemed to be enjoying himself a lot. We would drive up the side of a dune, make an arcing turn near the top, and slide down the same side. Or, we would rocket over the sharp crest of a dune, and plunge down the reverse side. The caravan stuck together, and it was as much fun to watch the other vehicles maneuver around the dunes as it was to do it ourselves.

After maybe 10 minutes of driving along the dunes, we stopped at a set of camel pens. More interesting to us was the huge house in the compound beyond the pens -- we wondered what dictator-in-exile resided there. While we took photos of the compound (and others took photos of the camels), the drivers opened the bonnets of the LandCruisers to let the engines cool … because the engines had been working hard, driving vehicles carrying 7 people up and down massive dunes while running the air con full-bore … all in 45 degree weather.

The engines cool, we climbed back in the vehicles and set off for another round. One of the LandCruisers did briefly bog down, but the driver was able to back out of trouble. Other than that, it was a lot of fun, especially riding along the crest of a dune, with sharp drops on either side.

We stopped again near the top of one massive dune, to allow the engines to cool again. The four of us -- along with many others -- piled out and set off to climb to the top of the largest dune. It was very hot out (the car thermometer read 45 degrees, and it felt like 45 degrees), and the sand was literally burning our feet. We had worn "comfortable walking shoes" … but, despite a conversation yesterday my experience in the past with hot sands that caused 2nd-degree burns on the soles of my feet, we had all worn sandals. Not very smart, and I wondered if I were getting blisters (but we were all okay). Still, with the breeze, it was not bad on the dunes, and we were still amazed by the number of plants growing in the sands … and by the signs of agriculture in the distance.

We were more or less done with the driving on the dunes, and now were taken to a very nice compound -- a round fence, lined on the inside with cabanas, filled with pillows and tables -- for lunch. The lunch was tasty Arabian barbeque … decent-sized portions, but not enough for Keegan and no seconds available, except for the rice. I was more interested in consuming vast amounts of liquid; although we were in the shade, we had no breeze, and it was very hot. In the center of the compound is a large platform, and there are high flood lights on the perimeter and ambient lighting (low-wattage fluorescent bulbs in traditional Arabic lanterns; very charming, actually) in each of the tents, so we wondered if they have music and dancing at night. That would be delightful; this was just hot hot hot.

A little before 2pm, we set off for home. Jo, the Englishwoman, was not feeling well, due to the heat, and Keegan was starting to get a little flushed himself (despite having lived without air con in very hot Rajasthan for the last two months). The trip home was just a drive; we hit terrible traffic in Abu Dhabi, but the drivers seemed entertained by a mini-race of their own. We were back on board by 3pm.

In the afternoon, we relaxed -- in the pool, by the pool (but in the shade), in our room, on deck in large cushioned chairs, having lots and lots to drink. We attended a presentation called, Behind the Scenes. It was mostly a video, showing the bridge, the engine room, the laundry, and discussing Costa's eco-friendly policies (which is nice that they're trying to compensate for all that we're doing to ruin the environment when we travel). More interesting was the opening slide show, with narration from the excursion director, showing photos of the construction of the ship.

Dinner was Italian, and we had another entertainment: the waiters began to dance with guests (and both Kyla and I were recruited), then Christopher (our waiter) and Kyla started a conga line and wound around the restaurant. Next, we all sang Volare!. Then, abruptly, it was over. Still, it was fun; too bad Keegan wasn't feeling well and had left dinner early. The others of us were tired, and all to bed right after dinner.

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