Arabian adventure

2012-03-23 14:11

When I was told I was headed for Dubai, it took me a while to wrap my head around the idea.

What did I know about Dubai, besides that it has a man-made island and that it’s somewhere east?

“It’s got the finest shops and their prices are really cheap,” my sister tells me as I start packing.

The only thing on my mind is they are a Muslim country. “Nothing too revealing or tight, right?” I think to myself as I pick a wardrobe carefully.

“All packed!”

I’m off on my first international solo trip, nervous and scared of accidentally making drug smuggling headlines, but very excited.

It’s just after one in the afternoon when I board the Emirates flight to Dubai International Airport. I ask the woman next to me how long the flight will be.

She replies “it should take about eight hours, we should be landing around midnight”. I’m no mathematician but I know that doesn’t add up. But silly me, I forgot about the time difference.

Eight hours later – at midnight – I walk off the plane and meet up with my escort, a young Arabic woman in a caramel pants suit with hair tied back in a ponytail.

“Is it your first time in Dubai?” she asks. “Yes” I say in a sleepy voice as she leads me to the immigration desk.

With the formalities out of the way, I take a deep breath of the crisp midnight air as I enter the heart of the United Arab Emirates, eager to explore.

During the drive to the Sofitel Jumeirah Beach hotel – a luxurious five-star hotel that smacks of French elegance located on The Walk – my head is filled with the list of things on my itinerary with only two days to complete them.

And so my Arabian adventure begins.

I’m whisked away to Grosvenor House – a two-tower hotel by the Marina – with the promise of a taste explosion and that’s what I get at the sophisticated Siddharta Lounge which overlooks the pool area in Tower 2.

The restaurant serves a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine and you have to try the Tiger prawns. You get a burst of flavour with every bite. Their sweet and spicy coating leaves a tingling sensation on your taste buds. It’s a meal I won’t forget any time soon.

With no time to spare it’s off to the next adventure.

I jump into a 4x4 with an old Canadian couple and their two sons whom they are visiting and we head south to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve for a sundowner.

About an hour outside the heart of the city lies glorious mountains of sand.

We drive into the “valley of a thousand dunes” as the sun shimmers off them. We meet up with 20 or so other cars and the day’s event begins with a falconry show.

“Falconry has been an Arabian tradition for at least 18 centuries and has evolved into a well-known sport,” says the falconer. He stops to demonstrate the speed and natural instinct of the bird when hunting.

We watch the majestic bird take flight in a familiar pose as it disappears towards the sun and quickly creeps up on its prey – giving us exactly what we came for – an outstanding show.

Then we jet off in a convoy for a four-wheel drive experience.

“Yeehah” shouts Babylon, our driver for the night. Even though I’m safely tucked behind my seat belt, I still look for the nearest solid object to hold onto as the ride feels like the twists and turns of a rollercoaster.

While singing along to Rihanna’s Only Girl In The World, Babylon hits the accelerator up one dune and pauses right at its peak. Adrenaline pumps through my veins, but settles quickly when I take in the serene beauty of the soft contours of sand in the setting sun.

After a few picture stops we pause at the crest of a high dune to watch the sunset.

Following the warm orange setting, I enjoy a short camel ride before we settle down on cushions at a secluded bedouin campsite.

The dimly lit tables are covered in traditional rugs and we attend to our thirst after the hair-raising drive.

“The encampment does indeed capture the scene of an Arabian night,” I think to myself as I remember a similar scene from some movie.

Happy with my whistle-stop tour so far, I join the queue to get my hand painted in henna.

The old Hindu woman effortlessly draws a vine of flowers around my wrist flowing to the tip on my index finger
and tells me to give it 30 minutes to dry.

To end off a good evening, we indulge in grilled meat and fresh salads followed by Arabic sweets, and are entertained by a bellydancer.

It might have been a first for me, but it won’t be the last time I visit Dubai.

» Sejake was a guest of Emirates Holidays

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