sunset over the Dubai desert

As we go through life we have experiences we never forget; a moment with friends, a kiss the memory of which never fails to stir butterflies in our stomachs, an adventure so thrilling it makes our heart pound every time we think on it.

Today was one such day.

Its beginning was not nearly so exciting as its end.

We’re in the United Arab Emirates for meetings in Dubai and a conference in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), another Emirate about 90 minutes up the coast from Dubai. There are five of us, with lots of luggage, including large display banners for an exhibit booth.

a camel strolling the desert alone

We had arranged well in advance for a van to take us from our hotel in Dubai to our hotel in RAK, so you can imagine our irritation when a small 4-seater car arrived to collect us. A 30-minute fight ensued with the concierge at our hotel, during which he tried several times to convince me either to pile on top of one another in the small car, or pay for a 2nd car. I wasn’t impressed with either option, since I had a confirmation and had pre-paid for the van.

They finally called in suitable transportation, which came with a driver who was apparently enjoying his first experience operating a motor vehicle. Perhaps he should have brought camels. Our new friend spent the next 2 ½ hours (of what should have been a 90-minute drive) alternating between stomping the gas and the stomping the brakes, apparently in an attempt to kill us for not having gone with the small car. Please understand that in this case “stomping” is no exaggeration, and the exercise of going back and forth between the pedals was one without pause.

tackling the dunes in a 4-wheel SUV!

By the time we arrived in RAK (after pulling over a half-dozen times for directions and passing our hotel twice while the 5 of us shouted “there, there you damned fool!”) we were all ready to throw up, and sporting a few new bruises from having whacked our heads and arms on various part of the van’s interior.

This was not an especially delightful way to begin our time in Ras Al Khaimah.

After checking into our hotel we set off for the World Free Zone Convention. We assumed we’d have naught but work during our time here, so were thrilled to learn we’d have a few free hours to kill late in the day.

We decided to take the SINAA Tour of the desert outside Dubai, which included something called “Dune Bashing.” It also included camel rides, belly dancing and a rest to smoke a Shisha, also known as “Hubblee Bubblee”, a flavored water pipe like a Hookah.

The camel ride was very cool, and we all enjoyed the dancing and traditional smoke, but Dune Bashing stole the show.

the view from our SUV as we approached the dunes

Ah, Dune Bashing. How do I describe something so wild, so intense, so unabashedly exhilarating? I can’t do it justice, any more than I could describe color to someone blind from birth, but I’ll try.

To dune bash we squeezed ourselves into a roll-bar reinforced 4-wheel drive SUV and hurled ourselves against Dubai’s red sand dunes at break-neck speeds. Our trained and licensed driver, Ali, raced us up and over dunes rising 600 feet above the valley, spinning us, often sideways, down and around steep drifts, in an adrenaline-pumping thrill ride that makes the world’s steepest roller-coasters seem like Driving Ms. Daisy.

Ali told us as we set off that he expected a few of us to scream, and that we shouldn’t be embarrassed if we did (he said he considered screaming passengers the mark of a successful day.) None of us did, but Paul’s death-grip on the handle and Joy’s attempts to take pictures during the ride had us all laughing hysterically (Joy wound up with a bunch of shots of Paul’s elbow, the ceiling of the car and his own feet.)

w/ Soo atop the dunes

At one point we hit a dune with such force that it ripped the tire off the wheel. We began to wonder if anyone ever got stranded out here, but were joined almost immediately by two other SUVs whose drivers helped Ali change our tire, and we set back off.

We concluded our euphoric contest with the dunes at sunset, watching the yellow sun fade behind endless red sands, all of us agreeing that we would remember this day as long as we live.

The subsequent camel ride probably would have been more exciting had it not followed Dune Bashing, but then I suspect anything that followed Dune Bashing would pale in comparison. Our camel was grumpy and smelled none-too pretty, but riding him was fun, right up until he tried to flip Soo and me over the front by suddenly dropping down on his front knees. We slammed into each other, nearly went over face-first, then slammed into each other again as he dropped down his backside. We wanted to be irritated, but it was so funny we couldn’t contain our laughter, which seemed to be the case for everyone present.

riding the camel, shortly before it dumped us off

We ended our magnificent night with a good smoke and what appeared to be delicious food at a camp deep in the desert. Unfortunately we were so exhausted from our assault on the dunes that we had no appetite. We contented ourselves with lounging on cushions while enjoying a good Shisha and even better company, reflecting on this amazing day.

We wondered if perhaps our driver from Dubai to RAK wasn’t so bad after all.

Maybe he was just Highway Bashing, and simply forgot to let us in on the game.

7 Responses on “Dune Bashing in Dubai

  1. I can relate to the “brake and grind” taxi folk. A good Ambassador car from India would do the trick. But you got to know how to drive it. Looking at the pictures, I’m glad you guys didn’t see a sand storm. Or did you? When I was at the Dubai airport, it was dusty. I couldn’t see the Ferrari track when the plane got up.

  2. “appeared to be delicious food”? HA! Adam, you kill me, bro!! You and Soo look great on the camel :)

  3. Great story and great pictures. Thanks so much for sharing your story in such a way that it makes me feel like I was talking with you about your experiences. Love reading it.

  4. WOW just stumbled onto this while I was searching for a cheap hotel in Dubai. Awesome piece – will def have to try out dune bashing!

  5. Oh, how I’ve missed the tales of your adventures. The pictures were, as always, absolutely beautiful. The dune bashing sounds right up my alley, although I would be a screamer. And I’m sure the driver did in fact forget to mention he was a skilled highway basher. Another great read!!

  6. Oh, how I’ve missed the tales of your adventures. The pictures were, as always, absolutely beautiful. The dune bashing sounds right up my alley, although I would be a screamer. And I’m sure the driver did in fact forget to mention he was a skilled highway basher. Another great read!! I can’t wait to read all the blogs I’ve missed, the one bright side to being miserably ill.

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