An Arabian night to remember

2012-06-01 11:06
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Dubai dune dinner

A rough 4x4 ride through the desert, an breath-taking falconry show and beautifully decorated Bedouin tents. Definitely one for the travel bucket list.

Arabian pop pumps over the sound system as the suddenly flimsy-feeling 4x4 vehicle encasing our precious flesh and bones summits a golden dune, then slides off the other side. In the driver’s seat Yamen Faleh Obeid, our Syrian guide, laughs like a lunatic while the four females in his care scream like a chorus of banshees.

This little foray into a Middle Eastern wilderness was what I was looking forward to most when I recently got the opportunity to visit Dubai.

While the array of impressive skyscrapers, mushrooming malls, and trappings of unequaled oil-wealth may be the first thing that springs to mind when mentioning this glittering modern-day Babylon, it is experiencing a tiny piece of the vast expanse of the Arabian Desert that really connects you to the true soul of the city. After all, less than half a century ago, this is all it was: a tiny fishing village at the very edge of an endless stretch of sand.

While the urban sprawl that is Dubai may be indicative of the UAE’s massive economic growth – a good thing overall – it’s needless to say that the natural environment has suffered for it. Aware of this, a strong conservation movement has taken off in the glitzy emirate, led by ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum himself.

According to Lonely Planet, the Sheikh, apparently inspired by our beautiful South African nature reserves, purchased a 225-square-kilometer camel farm just an hour’s drive inland from the city in 1997 and set his sights on creating the Dubai’s first ever national park, the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.

By 1999, 6 000 indigenous trees and shrubs were re-introduced to the area, providing a new sense of vitality for the once camel-eroded landscape. Along with the revitalised vegetation arrived 70 Arabian Oryx, majestic creatures a good few shades paler than their Southern African counterparts. Since then, Arabian and San gazelle (the latter looking suspiciously much like our Springbok) have also made the park their home, as well as a wealth of shyer creatures such as the Ethiopian hedgehog, sidewinders, sand cats and Rueppel’s fox.

While we did spot an Oryx or two and some gazelle, our dune adventure was less aimed at game viewing and more at unleashing some adrenaline.

Once our convoy of about 20 Emirates-owned Arabian Adventures 4x4 vehicles had entered the park’s gate, the guests were ushered out to enjoy a traditional falconry show, while the guides used the 20 or so minutes to deflate the tyres and give the cars a once over safety check.

The cosmopolitan nature of Dubai was humorously proven once more, when the ‘traditional’ falconry show commenced with a very Afrikaans-sounding (think Corne and Twakkie here) Henry who must have been from Bronkhorstspruit, welcoming us to the desert. While not exactly the real Bedouin deal, Henry’s skill and the falcon’s obedience was a sight to behold as he set her free to circle the sky, and she dramatically returned for a snack every once in a while.

Back in the vehicles, we were firmly told to buckle up, hang on and keep calm, while a sheet of safety instructions did the rounds. I suddenly felt terribly nervous… but my fears soon turned to thrills as Yamen navigated each of the rippled sand dunes with reckless skill for the next half-hour.

It felt like it had ended too quickly when we summited the last dune at sunset and saw a magnificent Bedouin camp awaiting us. As a welcome we got the opportunity to ride one of the brightly decked out camels, an experience that turned out to be as unforgettable as it was uncomfortable.

With a well-worked-up appetite, we entered the compound harking back to the desert days of yore, grabbed a beer, a glass of wine (yes, they serve alcohol!) or a soft drink and waited for the buffet starters to be served. The meal consisted of mouth-watering traditional Arab cuisine such as flat breads, hummus, felafels, lamb kebabs, cous cous, but sadly no stuffed camel this time round.

A vigorous belly dance followed by a magical lights-out star gazing session brought the evening to an end, again all too quickly.

The return journey took a much more relaxed tone, as Yamen entertained us with amusing and shocking tales of love, lust and betrayal , all true and almost on par with Scheherazade’s  1001 Arabian Nights, from his home town in Syria.

Looking back on the wild and wonderful travel experiences I've been part of, it’s safe to say that my night in Dubai’s desert certainly stands out: an evening of drenched in the kind of exoticism that every adventurer yearns for.

Nadia Krige was a guest of Dubai Tourism, Arabian Adventures and Flight Centre. Contact Flight Centre on 0860 400 747 or visit Flight Centre for more details on travel to Dubai.

Priced from R2 740 per person sharing enjoy three nights accommodation with return transfers, breakfast daily, a travel bag and Sundowner Dune Safari included. Flights to Dubai from Johannesburg on Emirates start from R7260 per person. This package is valid for travel on selected dates until July. Call Flight Centre on 0860 400 747 or visit for more details.


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