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Getaway with John Hagan
Dubai Safari
Special Contribution
By John Hagan
4WDs in desert in UAE

According to Ingrid, one of my companions on the adventure, "It's been absolutely awesome!" while her friend Michelle has had, "A most fantastic time." Here, in the middle of the Dubai desert on a warm, clear, starlit evening, we reminisce about shared experiences.

It had all started some five hours earlier when, in late afternoon, we had been collected by an 'Arabian Adventures' four wheel drive Toyota Landcruiser for our ‘Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari.'

Leaving behind the hustle and bustle of Dubai city, we head south on the six lane Oman Highway. The scrubby, flat, landscape initially encountered seems distinctly dreary and uninspiring. En route, our Pakistani driver, Nader, points out the newly constructed 10 kilometre camel racing track and adjacent army training camp, before we turn off-road into the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. At last, entrance to the real desert!

Presently we stop, and Nader explains that it is necessary to deflate the vehicle's tyres from the normal 35psi to 16psi to cope with the terrain, and the journey, ahead. As we wait, our Toyota is joined by 22 other Toyota and GMC 4WDs, each containing 6 passengers. But amongst all these similar-type vehicles, there exists a distinct 'pecking order.' According to Nader, "GMCs are the worst. Not enough power and more likely to get bogged." My five fellow travelers and I breathe a collective sigh of relief, for today we are blessed with a Toyota. I ask the obvious question and Nader assures me that there has never been an accident nor have any of the vehicles overturned.

Wheels deflated, we head out into the desert, in Indian file, like a latter day wagon train.

Camel and driver in Dubai desert

Soon we are on exhilarating roller-coaster 4WD slalom. At speeds of up to 70kph (40mph), we traverse the dunes, zipping up the seemingly almost vertical face with the vehicle bonnet pointing skywards, and next instant plunging down the obverse side. Despite the previous reassurance, I am comforted by the proximity of the anti-roll bar next to my head. Nader is loving it, and is obviously out to make our experience a memorable one. He flicks the power steering sharply to the right as we broadside down. Sand slams into the windscreen and side windows as we lose all vision. I can hear screams of excitement, pleasure, delight or perhaps fear, coming from my companions in the seats behind. Riding shotgun alongside the driver, I am thankful for the harness which keeps me in touch with the seat.

After 20 minutes of 'dune bashing,' we stop for a photo shoot. For some, it hasn't come a moment too soon, for others it is an unnecessary interruption to petrol-head ecstasy. Feeling like a latter day Lawrence of Arabia, I stride along the top of the dunes and marvel at just how solid is the sand along the apex. In the wade below, the drivers congregate to chatter, no doubt chiding those who have not been able to make all the dune climbs at the first attempt or 'roast' those whose vehicles became bogged.

Following another exhilarating session of 'dune bashing,' we stop to watch the sun go down. Lined up along the top of a dune, cameras at the ready, we resemble Apaches willing John Wayne to lead the cavalry along the depression below. Someone breaks ranks to the left to have a pee, receiving a Bronx cheer from the rest of us on the crest. I note that no one is apparently affected by 'dune sickness' following the switchback driving antics. In time, apart from the chatter of camera shutters, silence descends as the colour bleeds from the sand and the desert pales to a ghostly white as the sun disappears over the horizon.

Desert traffic in UAE

On the way to our next stop, a camel farm, two vehicles become bogged and have to be hauled out by the backup truck. "See," says Nader exultantly, "both GMCs – I told you." He gives the drivers a derisory toot as we whiz past. At the camel farm, rides are on offer as is fresh camel milk. Anticipating the meal (and more dunes) ahead, I decline both.

Soon, our Bedouin-style campsite emerges like some shimmering illusion in the desert darkness. The permanent flush toilets and running hot water seem a bit incongruous, but the ice cold Fosters beer in my hand is certainly no mirage. Seated on cushions at low tables, we begin our BBQ dinner with entrees of rissoles, spinach and pita bread. Between courses, a few opt to have their hands or arms tattooed with henna. While we feast on the main course of aromatic chicken, zesty beef, lamb and salads we are entertained by a belly dancer. Some, less weighed down by the repast, choose to cast their inhibitions aside and join her on stage, while others prefer a tentative smoke on a shish a pipe, before coffee and baklava are served.

All too quickly the evening is over and we are called back to our vehicles for the return journey to Dubai. It's a short dune drive out, but it takes its toll as two Toyotas stop to allow passengers to divest the contents of their meal. Tyres reflated, we leave behind the primeval beauty of the desert and, as we speed north towards the city, I can't but agree with the comments of Ingrid and Michelle.

For information on the Dune Dinner Safari, and other tours and safaris with Arabian Adventures, visit the website

For general tourist information on Dubai contact

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John Hagan, who serves as a travel writer for The Seoul Times, is a freelance journalist based in Tasmania, Australia. Born in Ireland, and a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the University of Wales, he emigrated to Australia in 1976 to take up a lecturing position. He contributes articles to a number of newspapers and magazines in South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, UK and Australia.






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