Friday, November 16:  This afternoon, we get picked up at our hotel by a guide driving a gleaming white Land Cruiser. We’re going on an afternoon desert safari.  Some Aussie and Brit expats who work in Abu Dhabi are part of our group.  One of the men works as a paramedic and the other works in construction.  Their wives, who enjoy their lives of leisure, are with them.  Apparently they are paid quite well as they live in one of four new gleaming residential towers across from Emirates Palace.

About an hour outside of the city, we turn into the desert and drive along a dirt track, where a line of vehicles joins us.  All the guides get out of their cars to deflate their tires a bit for driving over the desert sands.

First stop, a camel station, where camels are fed and watered and kept for tourist viewing.  We stop and mingle with the fuzzy camels, who are eating straw out of a trough, sharing a communal meal. The baby camels are in a playgroup of their own, having a frolicking time while their parents finish their dinner.  We wander amongst them.

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

Then the fun begins.  The vehicles, maybe 20-30 in all, go dune-bashing.  Our driver takes us on a roller coaster ride up and down the dunes, as we yelp and holler.  At times we drive sideways along the slope of the dunes, feeling like we will go tumbling down the sides.  I keep thinking of the scene in The English Patient, when some vehicles in a caravan topple off a dune and then endure a sandstorm while some of their party go to get help.

We stop on sand dunes a couple of times for sunset views over the desert.  It’s beautiful, and as the sun goes down, coolness descends over the dunes.  Breezy and brisk, a whole different experience than the daytime heat.

We then arrive at the desert “camp,” which is just a big nondescript open stage, surrounded by low tables.  Camel rides are offered, but there are only a couple of camels for maybe 200-250 people!  We can drink alcoholic beverages here, so I order a glass of red wine and my friend Tony has a beer.  Around the perimeter, the dinner buffet is set up and a woman does henna painting.  In one stall, people can put on dishdashas and abayas and pose for pictures. It’s quite a commercial enterprise and, I have to say, not nearly as nice as Camp Al Areesh Desert Camp in Oman, which I’ve been to many times.

The dinner is quite good, with some excellent ground lamb kebabs, grilled chicken, hummus, rice, baba ghanoush, tabouleh and other typical Arab fare. Then some Arabic music comes on over a loudspeaker and a bunch of random men, dressed in Western clothes, get up and dance in a big circle.  After a bit of this, some Emiratis in dishdasha dance with thin canes in their hands.   Finally, a belly dancer does her performance, inviting the audience on to the stage.

All in all, it seems much more commercial than the desert camps in Oman. The dune-bashing was definitely the highlight.  Next time, I think I will just stay close to home.