I think I’m going to have to add a category to the blog. It will be labeled “Allison Freaks Out” or perhaps “Allison Loses Her Chit“. It will be sad how many blog posts fall into that category! But it’s a fact of our life and the family just knows to go along with it. Here’s another experience that would be added to ALHC.
We decided to go full-tilt into the tourist game here in Dubai so one afternoon we booked a Desert Safari. We really weren’t sure what to expect but it sounded interesting and a lot of people wrote about it on Trip Advisor. We knew it went something like this:
- Get picked up at your hotel
- Go somewhere and drive around on sand, called “Dune Bashing”
- Go somewhere else and ride some camels
- You can have a free henna tattoo if you want it
- Get fed dinner
- See the belly dancing show
- Return to your hotel, fully cultured
The whole event reeked of a tourist trap but I really wanted to see something in the desert other than gleaming buildings. “Dune bashing” seemed like a good way to do it. The two extroverts in the family also wanted to do something with other people. Even if they aren’t people we will talk to, just being around other people is invigorating.
Our driver picked us up at the hotel. I’ll be honest he was not my favorite guy. He was very quiet, he was hard to understand, he did not understand us too well, and he didn’t seem too interested in talking to begin with. So we chatted amongst ourselves for the hour that it took to get there. Every once in awhile he pointed a few things out. I tried to talk to him about his white robe and how he kept it so clean but that conversation went over like a lead balloon.
Sidenote: we have not had a great deal of luck with guides here. I think the tourists are just so plentiful the guides don’t need to work too hard at pleasing us. Our city tour guide from a few days ago was a nice enough guy but also very difficult to understand and he had difficulty understanding us. And who does a 5-hour city tour with no water or food stops? Not the Shermanos (well, Dan could but he’s a freak of nature).
Anyway, we’ll call our guide “Maji” because that’s how the desert safari people referred to the guides. Like I said: tourist trap with all the fixins.
Maji took us first to an area that is best described as a holding pen. There were snacks, restrooms with no TP, a place to sit, but more importantly there were vendors. These guys were trying to sell you anything you could possibly (not) need, including colored sand and the traditional head scarf, which they will put on you right away. I guess “cultural appropriation” hasn’t made it to Dubai yet. A guy with a bird was walking around letting people take pictures for an astronomical cost, which he informs you only AFTER you have taken the picture. Dan was handing him some coins (about US$1) and he wouldn’t take it, demanding 20 Dirhams instead. So we paid closer to US$5.50 for about 20 seconds of his time. Shermanos: 0, Bird Guy: 1. Live and learn on that one.
As we waited to embark upon our bashing, we people-watched and tried to pick out who might be American, just for giggles. We saw a sad, starving cat. Maji made a half-hearted attempt to get us to rent one of the hundreds of ATVs they had parked there and cruise around the dunes while we waited. Little did he know, this is Day 6 in Dubai: we are tired of dropping a huge chunk of change at every turn. So we declined. We were happy when the Maji told us it was time to go.
Back at the car, Maji proceeds to deflate the tires somewhat. I had done research (read: I briefly read some reviews on Trip Advisor) and I knew this was part of the process. My elementary knowledge of physics knew that it had something to do with better traction on sand. Whatever you gotta do, Maji, go for it. Just keep us safe.
As we left the parking lot of the Holding Pen Where They Try To Take More Of Your Money, I had no idea what to expect but there were tons – and I mean TONS – of other vehicles doing the same thing we were doing so I figured it had to be safe. That’s my faulty logic, already on display. They were all a variation of our vehicle, which was a very nice Toyota SUV with leather interior. Very nice. But the fact that the car’s “oh shit” handles – on BOTH SIDES – were broken did not give me much comfort. I told Maji that I am not a calm person and please be safe. He laughed. My love for Maji is decreasing by the minute here.
I don’t really know what happened next. We drove up a lot of sand hills and I got scared and I closed my eyes and panicked for the rest of the time. Why am I always the one freaking out? The kids seemed to love it and Haley asked if she could go back without me next time. Ouch. That’s going to leave a mark. A few times I heard Dan gasp or exclaim something that I construed as “We are all going to die”, but I am living to write this post and allowing Dan to upload the video of me losing my chit (the tame part of my chit losing, not the part where I was actually, you know… like, um… crying) so all is well that ultimately ends with us still alive. That should be our new blog tagline.
Soon Maji declared that the adventure part was over and we drove – calmly – to the “camp”. Evidently there are 45 “camps” in the desert that house hungry tourists who have just risked their lives had fun dune bashing and given an arm or leg to pay for it all. We settled into pillows on the floor next to a table and entertained ourselves while we waited for the snack bar to open up. Zoe got a Henna tattoo, Zoe and I rode a camel, Haley texted Texas, Haley and I walked up the dunes nearby and Dan sat on a pillow and guarded our table, which was not safe from table stealers even when we put our shoes on the table.
Pretty soon the snack bar opened up and we had a little bit of Indian food. Then the show started and we were entertained by a guy who defied nature by not getting dizzy while rapidly spinning in a circle for 5 minutes straight, a fire juggler and finally a belly dancer. That’s about when the buffet opened up and the organizers did a great job of getting everyone fed in a very short time. There was more belly dancing and then the show was over and everyone took off for the exits. Dan declared the experience, “Way better than the Flamenco Dancing Show in Granada”. OK, well that’s the title we can put on our Trip Advisor review. Although, to be fair… he said that only because it was beautiful weather for this show. The show in Spain is tainted with all kinds of memories of us freezing!!!
The desert portion of our night journey back to the city was an interesting ride unto itself. We (and hundreds of other SUVs spread out across the desert) were driving like a bat out of hell. It felt like a scene from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” or we were participants in the Dakar Rally. There were a few cars coming towards us at random times and it was dark. This time I enjoyed the ride and tried to regain some measure of self respect to my family and Maji. Although, I think it was too late for that.
We stopped at a mini mart where there was a well oiled operation of a bunch of dudes ready to inflate the tires, but also wanting to separate you from even more money. We didn’t get out of the car on that one, even though one vendor guy tried to make me think I needed to get out while the tires were being reinflated. At this point Maji really isn’t telling us anything that’s going on but we figured it out. I didn’t really think he had our back, he was kind of throwing us to the wolves there. But we persisted in staying in the car and soon we were headed back to the city.
This day was one of those things where you are glad you did it but you didn’t aren’t sure you loved it at the time. But you love it more and more after you get some distance between you and the experience. Yeah, it was that kind. But only for me. Everyone else declared it great, and very memorable.
But don’t take my word for it, watch this video to fully experience the day. The dune bashing was MUCH more scary than the video depicts. For reals. But the video pretty much takes you through the day. And we won’t even charge you to watch it. We are good majis like that.