Thirsty Thursday took on a whole new meaning when Katie surprised me with my actual gift (as if a trip to the U.A.E. wasn’t enough). When I woke up, I could see the excitement on her face and I knew that she had something up her sleeve but I didn’t know just what it was.
She told me to dress for very warm weather. Now we were in Abu Dhabi in the beginning of September, a notoriously hot time, so I was a bit confused by what she meant. As I dressed in my workout clothes, she giggled as she knew that she was going to drag me to the amazing breakfast at the Shangri-La, and I was going to be the most underdressed person in the chic restaurant.
Once full of Middle Eastern delicacies, we made our way to the front door of the hotel just as a brand new Lexus LX 570 pulled up and the driver said to jump in. He seemed as if he knew what he was doing so without hesitation, we got in. Katie couldn’t help but smile as she knew exactly where we were going and all I could do was just stare out of the window and wonder.
After about a hour of driving through what started as a cityscape and turned into endless deserts and sand dunes, the driver suddenly pulled off of the highway and started to deflate his tires. This is the moment that I realized that we were going to be on the sand. As he pushed forward, we could feel the SUV get loose around some corners and gravitate towards a few faint ruts already in the sand.
Finally, we came up over a small hill and we seemed to have arrived. There were camels everywhere! It was amazing, they were all around us and were surprisingly friendly. The driver explained that it was a working camel farm where they harvested their milk for chocolate. He told us that it was similar to cows milk in taste but was loaded with nutrients and when he offered a sample of the chocolate, we had to indulge (to compare to Hershey’s) and it was delicious.
After petting the surprisingly enormous camels and taking a few photo ops, the driver herded us back to the SUV and said to buckle up. He flipped the switch to 4WD and punched it toward the towering dunes. It felt like a ferocious rollercoaster ride and I was gitty with excitement. Now Katie gets motion sick, so her smile had faded, sweat poured from her face, her color turned gray, and the vomit was near. Good thing that she screamed out to stop when she did or the perfect leather and beautiful woodgrain trim would have felt her wrath. We jumped out at the top of a dune to the perfect example of how vast the desert is. Dunes for as far as we could see in every direction. She sat in the shade of the lift gate and nursed down some water while I explored on.
When our driver realized Katie would need some more time, he ran back to the Lexus and pulled out an old snowboard from the back. There was some thick strap material where the bindings are supposed to be and the graphics from the deck were faded from the intense sun.
He challenged me to give it a try and without hesitation, I began hiking up the tallest dune in site. He was yelling instructions to me as he held Katie’s camera. I think he was hoping for the opportunity to snap some shots of me tumbling down the scorching hot sand but I was able to stay upright and even get in a few turns.
The hardest part wasn’t going down, but coming back up and after a handful of runs, the heat from the sand had actually managed to melt my sandals.
By the time I made my way back to the SUV, ten pounds lighter from sweat loss, Katie was feeling better. We jumped back in and hit our final stop before heading back to the city. It was a camp set up just as those who wander the desert would live in. It had all of the traditional clothing hanging up, a special tent for hookah, and a few camels. We didn’t want to waste the opportunity and immediately asked if we could go for a ride. I didn’t realize that camels are much bigger than horses and as we approached, the driver started speaking to it in Arabic. She laid down immediately for us to mount and with a bit of encouragement, jumped back to its feet. Since we are unexperienced jockeys, we didn’t ride very long but enjoyed every second of it.
The scorching sun and pending dinner reservations meant that it was time to leave the amazing and ever changing dunes and head back to civilization. During the ride home I couldn’t help but to think about how that ancient way of life and the vast emptiness that was the Arabian Desert was basically surrounding some of the most modern and amazing cities in the world.