Our Dubai Desert Safari
Dubai has a serious Napoleon complex and appears to exist in part to achieve, document and proclaim superlatives. The world’s tallest building, the world’s tallest 7 star hotel, the word’s most twisty building (seriously), the largest shopping mall in the world and the world’s longest automated, driverless metro system.
Brunette gets plenty of Napoleon complex at home from her tiny, grumpy husband. Blonde has had more than her share from various bosses and coworkers. Not surprisingly we do not ever choose to add an extra helping of the diminutive emperor’s ‘tude to our lives.
Before we left home we considered activities we could do that sounded like more fun than merely bragging that mine is bigger than yours. The main activity that seemed to meet our criteria was a desert safari. Yes, it’s a decidedly touristy thing to do but after all, we’re tourists.
For probably 10 years we have booked various day trips at our destinations through Viator. We can truthfully say that we have never had a bad experience on one of their tours and we have had many that were the highlights of our visit to some city or country or another. So we approached Viator to see if they would comp us to a desert safari and they agreed to do so.
In theory this could be seen as tainting our review but if you’ve ever so much as looked at this blog before you realize that we are willing to bite the hand that feeds us when it deserves a bite. And we are not likely to shower superlatives on activities we do not enjoy.
Dubai is interesting, architecturally orgasmic and well behaved but the first word that comes to mind in describing it is not “fun” and the desert safari was fun, a lot of fun.
The driver picked us up at our hotel around 2:00 p.m. The others in our group were three very nice men from Japan who were filming a segment for a television show about cruises. The driver was even nice enough to turn around and go back to our hotel when Blonde realized she’d left her iPhone charging in the hotel room and acted as if she’d left her kidneys on a dialysis machine and forgotten them. After that incident/favor Blonde decided to make a mental note to (try) not to be a pain in the ass on anything else while on the outing.
The ”Empty Quarter” desert is quite a ways out of the city – at least an hour. When you reach the desert you have somehow joined up with many other Toyota 4×4 Land Cruisers from the same company. All of the cars converge in a lot which is presented as a photo opp to the trip participants. Really it is just a place for the drivers to let about 60% of the air out of their tires as doing so is apparently a critical factor in driving insanely, yet successfully, over sand dunes.
From there a 45 minute thrill ride ensues. You fly up, over, down, zigzag and sideways in an alarming fashion through the desert. Sand flies up and over the windows and you’re sure the vehicle will tip over or pitch headfirst down a dune. It’s fabulous!
If you have a tendency for motion sickness be prepared. Brunette wears wrist bands that save her queasy stomach from many a potentially vomitorific experience and they didn’t fail her (or those of us in her proximity) this time.
Next stop was a camel farm. Probably the most interesting thing we observed there was that camels apparently choose their lovers by sticking their noses in their bums. It probably works at least as well as reading profiles on Match.com so who are we to criticize?
We also learned that camels are used for three things in Dubai; racing, meat and milk. The milk is used to make excellent chocolates. Who knew? (That was rhetorical, no need to answer.)
At the camel farm there was a man in traditional dress on an ATV/ quad/ whatever it’s called accompanied by his falcon. Falcons are the Dubai equivalent of trophy wives and he wanted people to pay to have their pictures taken with his bird – by which we mean the falcon. No one was interested as we had free falcon photography opportunities ahead of us so he roared off in a snit on his motorcycle with the rejected, peevish falcon perched on one of the running boards.
Time flies when you’re crashing over sand dunes and observing camel courting rituals so we were quickly ushered off to the final stop; a “camp” in the desert. Along the way we saw quite a few camels that Brunette assumed would be sold as “free range camel” meat. (Are you listening Whole Foods? You heard it here first.)
Once at the camp we were presented with many opportunities to make fools of ourselves and predictably took every opportunity. These included the obligatory camel ride which gave Blonde a bruise on the inside of her fleshy, white thigh that she’s hoping people will think was acquired riding a different sort of hump – so to speak.
After that was ‘surfing” down sand dunes which Brunette did sitting down and Blonde executed with Olympic level skill meaning she didn’t fall down until after the picture was taken.
Blonde decided to do everything that was included while Brunette chose her activities in a sensible Brunette fashion. This meant Blonde headed over to the hookah tent to partake of whatever it is you do (in public) with a hookah. The advice was to inhale or to not inhale so she did a bit of both. However, decidedly negative vibes were coming her way which was perplexing. Only after finishing did we realize that women were apparently not welcome with the hookah chaps. That made Blonde all the happier that she’d done it.
Next stop was a chance to have a hooded falcon perch on our arms. On the ride out to the desert the car driver told us that falcons are so important to Arabic men that when they fly with their falcons the bird is always seated in either business or first class. Falcons already wear hoods most of the time so do they refuse the complimentary eye masks? Can they have wine? If not is it because they’re birds or because they’re Muslim? Do they use the plane’s toilets, wear falcon diapers or worse? The falcon fellow didn’t seem as if he would be interested in having this conversation so we had our photos taken and were on to the next thing.
It had become clear that something was going to happen in a ring/ stage sort of area on the ground in the center of the camp so we situated ourselves advantageously and Blonde dashed off to buy two glasses of wine.
A man in a teal jumpsuit with a giant skirt and a less than effervescent personality appeared in the center of the ring. He then twirled for a considerable period of time as the skirt lit up, swished wildly about and created a visual orgy of delight. We were thrilled with the performance and very impressed that he could still stand up at the end.
Then a wholly adequate, if unremarkable, dinner was served buffet style. There were chicken, lamb, vegetarian and fish options as well as many salads and desserts. Camel meat was not one of the featured entrees or, if it was, no one told us.
The evening’s final entertainment was a belly dancer. Brunette went over to claim ringside seats with the zeal of a mutant combo Russian-German tourist and Blonde went for more wine.
On the way to the wine tent Blonde saw that another included option was to get henna painted on her hands and arm. The henna painters were packing up but obliging, although quite possibly vengeful, as they did the job in under a minute with a very thick application of henna. After it was on Blonde asked how long it would last and was told that it would be there for about a week. If it hadn’t been for that second glass of wine panic would have ensued. As it was the panic ensued after getting back to the hotel and seeing that old veiny hands do not look beautiful in thick orange henna. Oh well, as we always say, live and don’t learn.
The belly dancer had all of the twitchy shake your booty skills called for in her job description and delivered a crowd pleasing performance. Brunette thought back to the days when she had taken a belly dancing class at a YMCA in western Pennsylvania. She realized that, among a number of other things, the fact that she doesn’t have any hips may have been part of her lack of success with belly dancing.
At the conclusion of the entertainment, with our bellies and tires inflated we got back into our vehicle. Brunette claims to have been the only person (other than the driver) who stayed awake on the return trip to the hotel. Apparently staying awake is interesting as there were many local people out along the edge of the desert with cars arranged like stagecoaches and a fire in the middle. This is a popular local picnic option for families and one of the very few things that can be done for free in Dubai.
Although we had sand in our teeth and shoes and Blonde had a globby, smeared orange arm we thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. We can’t speak for the camels but we assume it was just another day at the office for them.