It felt surreal. All the photos at the end of the adventure looked like paintings. Being in an actual desert, an endless one that is, feels like being in a different world altogether.
People who lived in the United Arab Emirates in the past decade have seen how the cities — particularly Dubai — have transformed from a desert to a developed city with huge malls and pleasant-looking skyscrapers that spring from everywhere.
Dr. Norman Ali Bassam Khalaf, our tourist guide for our Dubai trip, said the city is divided into the old Dubai and the new Dubai. While the new Dubai is a must see with all those wonderful sights to behold, traveling to Dubai would not be complete without seeing the old Dubai, specifically the desert part of the city.
Hence, an off-the road adventure through the Desert Safari. It was a good thing that the trip to the desert was scheduled in the afternoon so that’s less scorching heat of the sun.
The temperature during that day plummeted to around 35 degrees celsius, a better weather said Dr. Norman, compared to the summer months when the weather reached a high of 50 degrees celsius.
While the desert looks like an endless sea of fine and golden sand, there are in fact a good number of things to do to enjoy the land.
The motorbike experience is a fun way to enjoy the highs and lows of the sand dunes. For a fee, visitors in the Desert Safari could rent their own motorbikes and drive their way through the mountains of sands. But while the motorbike adventure is fun, visitors always want to experience the actual dune bashing that’s equivalent to a roller coaster ride in the desert.
Our driver, Ali, deflated the tires of our 4×4 land cruiser and started to get ready for the intense dune bashing experience. He told us to fasten our seat belts and hold on tight as he drove round and round the endless desert.
The people inside the car were screaming so loud and laughing at the same time, because really, how was it possible that a four-wheel ride felt like a roller coaster ride?
Amid the experience going to the highest mountain of sand and skidding to the low ones, one of the three land cruisers used by our group got stuck so Ali had to stop for a while and leave us at the middle of the endless desert.
We took that chance to observe the beautiful sunset and take a lot of photos, thanks to our photographer, Rose, who had so many ideas in mind and choreographed us to achieve such nice photographs in the middle of the dessert.
It was a little hard walking around the desert because at some points, our feet really sank and our shoes were filled with sand (that’s why it’s advisable to wear sandals or just walk barefoot!) It was nice, nonetheless, to see and touch the so-called golden sand and feel its fineness on your skin. The white sand beaches have nothing to compete here.
One of the people who arranged the tour told us that of all the people who got stuck in the middle of the desert, our group seemed to be the only one who did not worry or fear of what might happen.
That’s because we enjoyed every minute of being stuck in the desert while Ali helped the other driver remove the other land cruiser from getting stuck in one of the dunes.
After a series of photo shoots, we started moving again. It was impressive that that Ali and the others were looking at each other, ready to give help as needed. What would happen if Ali was not there to help?
So we rode the 4×4 once again and prepared to go to the campsite where we would be having our dinner. Ali said that Filipinos are so fun to be with because while we were screaming inside the vehicle, it is quite evident that we were not a bit scared but enjoying that intense dune bashing ride.
I was not able to keep track of time, but as the surroundings started to get darker, we finally reached the spot where we were supposed to go. There, sitting down, were three tall camels (I haven’t seen one before the trip and I realized that camels are really tall!) ready to take us for a short walk.
Even it was dark, and the camel ride was short, it was not less fun. That was better than any horse ride, ever. With all the humping and the walking, we were reminded to always hold on tight because it was really high and the camels’ backs were not even flat.
After the short camel ride, we went for a traditional dinner at a campsite — a place called Al Jabal Village.
Before dinner, starters were offered to diners which include falafel, pickles and of course, chicken shawarma.
The falafel is made from ground chickpeas and spices confined to form small patties and then deep fried. This can be eaten with dips! Meanwhile, Shawarma is the Middle East’s version of Mexican burrito or taco. While this is available in local stores in the Philippines, the chicken shawarma is tastier compared to those sold locally (probably because they have more secret spices!)
As we feasted on our appetizers, a guy wearing colorful skirts started whirling and whirling, and continued to whirl non-stop I almost looked away because I felt so dizzy for him.
This performance, usually performed during traditional festivals, is called Tanoura dance which is a considered a folk dance in Egypt. This is one of the must-see performance in Desert Safari.
Tanoura was performed by a guy wearing colorful skirt and he continuously spins to the beat of the music while performing small tricks using his multi-layered skirt.
The highlight of the visit to Al Jabal Village is of course, a taste of Arabian food! The popular Emirati meal at night in the middle of the desert is called Barbecue dinner.
The main course of our Arabian dinner involves a succulent lamb on stick and chicken cooked over charcoal fire. This is very popular among the Arabs, our tour guide said.
But of course, we got the chance to experience the colorful and flavorful Arabian meal — which had been an identification of such because really, Arabs were known for spices.
There was a wide array of food choices to complete our dinner but most of them have staple ingredients of Arab food like lentils, chickpeas, seafood and herbs.
The flat bread is a staple Arabian food as well. There are many options to enjoy this bread as this can be toasted or stuffed with chunks of lamb and vegetables. It can also be dipped in — the always present — hummus.
We had, of course, the very popular hummus which originally serves as an appetizer but you can eat this with absolutely anything. The hummus is made of chickpeas and sesame seed paste, with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice and ends up like a creamy dip perfect for every meal.
While feasting on our scrumptious dinner, a lady started belly dancing. But the dance was not the usual belly dancing we see in movies or cultural shows at our home land. That was a real full-length belly dancing that entertained us all even after we finished our dinner.
Al Jabal Village also offers other leisurely experience like henna painting and smoking shisha.
The desert is serene, motionless but the golden sands — as they call it — gives more than a picturesque view. It gives a one-of-kind experience to people traveling from different parts of the world.