Monday, February 21, 2011

Desert Safari

Yippee! Our internet is now installed and I'm back online. I'll do my best to catch you up on what's been happening.

This year, February 14th was Mohammed’s Birthday and a national holiday in UAE (the actual day is based on the Muslim lunar calendar so it changes each year). Because the 14th was a Monday, the government decided to make the official holiday on Thursday so workers could have a 3-day weekend. We took advantage and the Epic group organized a desert safari trip including dune bashing, camel rides, sand boarding, an Arabic buffet, belly dancing and shisha smoking.

First on the agenda was the dune bashing. We drove out to the desert in a Toyota Land Cruiser and stopped with about 15 other cars. All the drivers then let some of the air out of their tires – I’m told this helps with traction in the sand – and then we formed a line and were off. Dune bashing is basically driving around like a crazy person in the sand dunes. There is actually a track that they follow so all the cars go in a line, but really fast – it’s a bit like a rollercoaster with no tracks. We hit some pretty steep sand dunes too! It’s pretty amazing the beating these land cruisers can take! At one point we got stuck going up a sand dune so slid all the way back down and had to try again. By this point, I was getting carsick and ready for the whole ordeal to be over, but most of the folks in the car loved it. We stopped twice to get out, look around and climb the sand dunes (actually, I think the breaks are strategically timed to let the car engines cool down!) Here are a few photos.

Next up was the camels and sand boarding. They had only two camels, so the camel ride was only about 10 feet and felt like those little pony rides at the fair when we were kids. Still, I can now say I’ve ridden a camel, which is about as comfortable as you might imagine (in other words, not at all!) The scariest part is when the camel lays back down to let you off - that's a long way down and they aren't very graceful about it! I love this picture here - it's as if the camel is saying, "not another load of heavy tourists!" And the covering on the other camel's mouth? We told ourselves it was because he was cold (not because he might be prone to spitting or biting. ;)

The “kids” as I’ve taken to calling the rest of the Epic crew in private (the oldest is only 28!) tried to do some sand boarding, which is just like snow boarding only down a sand dune rather than a snow hill. Even those who succeeded were finding sand in places they wouldn’t have thought possible. ;) Brian and I stayed at the bottom and took some pictures of the group.

Then we were off to dinner – a nice Arabian buffet with humous, babba ganouch, tabouli, rice, lamb, chicken, fish, lentil soup … let’s just say we didn’t go home hungry. The food was quite good and there was lots of it! After dinner, a few of us girls got our hands decorated with henna. This is a combination of plants that makes a dye that stays on your skin for up to 2 weeks. It’s much more common in India, but you see it here as well – it’s very popular for brides to be decorated with henna for their wedding. We got some simple designs on one hand as you can see in the photo below.

There was some belly dancing at this point and we went over to smoke some shisha. Yeah, I know how that sounds, but it’s not illegal, just flavored tobacco that is smoked through a water pipe called a hookah. It’s very popular to see people of all races, genders and ages smoking shisha after the evening meal in restaurants. Our flavor that night was anise, but it also comes in apple, watermelon, strawberry … I can’t say that I’m a big fan, but it was fun to try. We ended the night dancing deptka, which is a traditional Arabic line dance of sorts that’s most common at weddings (think of the chicken dance back home!) Luckily, one of the Epic team members is Lebanese so she was able to teach us enough of the dance to keep us from making total fools of ourselves. After a bit of dancing, they turned off all the lights so we could look at the stars, but the moon was so full that we couldn’t really see much. 

And then we were piling back into the Land Cruisers to head back to Abu Dhabi – luckily this time using the paved roads!

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