Some of you may recall that our first attempt at camping in the UAE was a bit of a disaster (more details here). Well a couple of weeks ago we decided to have another go, but this time we thought it would be nice to head into the desert.
What began as a plan to go with a few friends soon became a party of nine (?) families, including 15 children (that is an approximate number, they never stood still long enough for me to count). We all assembled at Al Yasmina School on the Friday morning and headed off in convoy towards the desert, only needing to pause once to wait for a stray car that had taken a wrong turn to catch up.
Soon enough we turned off the road and headed along a track on the edge of the desert. It wasn’t long before the track ran out and it was time to head properly off road into the sand dunes. At this point we stopped to let air out of our tyres, as apparently this helps with driving on soft sand. The novices amongst us were given a quick lesson on how to do this quickly with a nifty little tool, rather than standing there for hours trying to deflate the tyre by just pressing our finger on the valve.
Finally we were all ready to head off road. This was the first time that we have been properly off road and despite some initial nervousness Jo, who was driving, soon got into the swing of things, getting the hang of some of the basic rules such as never stopping pointing up a slope (because you may never get going again). After a couple of stops to scout out the safest route to the place we were going to camp we soon arrived at our destination.
The spot has been christened “One Tree Hill” (for obvious reasons) by friends who have been there previously, and despite only being a short way into the proper desert it feels as though you really are in the middle of nowhere, away from all civilisation. I’m not allowed to reveal the exact location, suffice to say it is out on the Al Ain road, in the general area of Al Wathba.
Each family grabbed its camping spot and the next hour was spent putting tents up and setting up chairs, tables, etc around the area earmarked for the campfire. Following our experience earlier in the year we had invested in a “pop up” tent from Carrefour and true to claim on the packaging it was pretty much up in a couple of minutes. It certainly seems the tent of choice here and it is easy to see why. We had also invested in some sand pegs so I’m glad to say our tent didn’t blow away this time.
Once the camp was established we settled down for an afternoon and evening of relaxation, chatting, listening to music (it is a bit weird listening to Christmas music in the middle of the desert), eating and drinking. That was the adults. The kids spent most of the time running up and down sand dunes, flying kites and other energetic activities. It was great to see them like this rather than being glued to electronic devices of one type of another.
We adults did prise ourselves out of our seats for a few minutes to drag ourselves up a nearby sand dune to watch what was a spectacular sunset, and to take various arty photographs, but that was enough exertion for most of us.
Shortly after darkness fell we gathered the children together to sing a couple of Christmas songs, and to “everyone’s” surprise part way through we heard a distant “ho ho ho” and out of the darkness came Santa! As if that wasn’t magical enough he had a small gift with him for every child there.
As the evening wore on the rum came out and soon people began to drift off to their tents. Not long after midnight most people had retired and the camp was in absolute silence (apart from “someone” snoring loudly, not sure who that was).
Next morning most people awoke as the sun began to come up and start burning the fog away. After a quick breakfast the tents came down, everything was packed away and we were soon ready to head home, leaving the camping spot as clean and tidy as we found it I think.
It was my turn to drive back to the track through the dunes, which was great fun. I think dune bashing is top of the “to do list” for 2015. After a quick stop to re-inflate tyres we waved goodbye to everyone and headed towards home, confident that we didn’t need to do the return journey in convoy because we knew the way. Well that’s what we thought anyway – thirty minutes later after commenting a few times that the road didn’t feel familiar we realised we had turned the wrong way out of the desert and were now heading away from home not towards it. We re-traced our steps and finally reached home, no doubt well after everyone else who had set off after us.
Despite that minor blip it was a fantastic experience and one that we will hopefully repeat many times whilst living in the UAE. It is something that I would recommend all expats to experience at least once.
To finish a few random tips for anyone thinking about going camping in the desert. By no means exhaustive but hopefully of assistance:
- Never go on your own – always go with at least one other family / car – so that if one of you gets into difficulty (stuck in the sand, etc) you have someone to help you.
- Pop up tents are the way to go – very reasonably priced at Carrefour and so much easier to erect, especially if there is a bit of a breeze.
- Remember your sand pegs – normal tent pegs are no good in the desert, invest in some sand pegs, it is worth it.
- Don’t assume sand is soft enough to sleep comfortably on – it isn’t. Take an air bed or something similar if you don’t want a sleepless night and a sore back in the morning (spoken from experience).
- Take some wood for the fire – you won’t find a great deal of wood to burn in the desert so take enough with you to keep a fire going into the evening, and in the morning, when it can be quite chilly.
- Take any water you will need – an obvious one maybe, after all you are going into the desert, but worth remembering.
- Take some glow sticks for the kids – it gets very dark when night falls (no light pollution in the desert), so when you have kids running amok around the surrounding area it is strangely reassuring if you can at least see the little glowing lights moving around so at least you can see how far they may be straying.
That’s all for now. Hope you enjoyed and thanks for reading as always.