We woke up at the crack of dawn and drank our coffees on the balcony overlooking the marina. For once, I didn’t ask for 5 more minutes or hit my snooze button as we were going to have breakfast with a Bedouin on a desert safari organised by the fabulous Platinum Heritage!
We were picked up from our hotel and driven to the 225 square kilometre Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
We stopped off at a camel racetrack on the way! Well, we didn’t quite stop but I opened the door and jumped out to take photos.
There are camels bred for meat, milk, and racing. It’s big business in Dubai and some of the racing camels can sell for millions!
Once we’d arrived at the Red Desert, our guide, Murad, from Platinum Heritage, showed us how to tie a ghutra, the traditional Middle Eastern headdress. It seems illogical to wear more to keep cool, but it really does work!
Once we were looking all desert chic, we cruised over the dunes in these old school, open-top Land Rovers from the 1950s that Platinum Heritage have refurbished.
First stop, the Bedouin camp. They are traditionally built on top of a hill to catch cool winds, avoid floods, keep a look out for approaching enemies, and keep away from beasties like snakes and scorpions that prefer the low lying brush.
It’s traditional to greet guests with coffee (qahwa) and dates, and it’s rude to decline! It’s served in a dallah, which is the metal coffee pot with a long spout below. The coffee is poured into a tiny little cup without a handle, and when you’ve had enough, you shake the cup from side to side before putting it down so they know you don’t want a refill.
After coffee, we had a ‘traditional’ breakfast of what appeared to be pancakes & honey (YES), noodles (?!), and a type of frittata made out of eggs and herbs (decent). We washed it down with… Fanta and more coffee!
The Bedouin, whose ancestors have lived in the area for ages, came to talk to us about his heritage and answer any questions while we all sat on cushions laid out on the sand. This was probably the MOST cringe part of the entire day. While some questions gave a really interesting, and in some cases, unexpected insight into their lives (he drives a supercar), there were a few tourists who asked questions such as…
‘Do you prefer your male or female children?’
‘Which is your favourite camel?’
‘Where do you go to the bathroom?’
‘Is this how you make a living, by coming and talking to us?’
The guides who translated the questions into Arabic for him were visibly cringing. Either way, he was a good sport and answered – he loves all of his children the same, does not have a favourite camel, he uses a toilet (not a hole in the sand) and it turns out that he’s quite wealthy as he has a lot of camels. Also, he no longer lives in a Bedouin camp, his kids go to school but they still educate them on the Bedouin ways so that they don’t lose touch with their ancestry. Aaand he’s named all of his camels and can tell them apart. Obligatory tourist photo incoming…
We went for a little ride through the desert. As you can see, my Mr’s camel had sat-nav…
The red tinges in the sand are caused by iron oxide which blows across from nearby mountains, and is why this is sometimes referred to as the Red Desert. We drove deeper into the desert in search of wildlife…
On our Platinum Heritage safari we came across a family of Arabian Oryx. They were extinct in the wild by the early 1970s but zoos and private reserves managed to reintroduce them. Some say that the unicorn myth may have originated from these beasts as when seen side on, they appear to only have one horn.
It’s fascinating how the barren desert provides for the Bedouin. The flower buds of this Broom bush below are edible – I tried them, tasted like chicken… ok, they tasted of nothing! It doesn’t stop there, there are so many uses for this plant! An infusion is made with the branches to use as a diuretic. Different parts of the plant are used as antihistamines, expectorants and in the treatment of gout and rheumatism. The Bedouin would also weave rope and carpets out of the strong fibres.
The Bedouin have also found a use for each part of this shrub, Sodom’s Apple. They use the roots, leaves and flowers to reduced fever, treat asthma, bronchitis, paralysis, swelling, tumours and as a laxative!
After spending hours under the beating sun, climbing dunes and riding camels, we were dropped back at our hotel, and gladly sank into the pool for the rest of the afternoon… I’d highly recommend a desert experience with Platinum Heritage – it’s probably the best company to do it with in Dubai and you can even stay over night if you’re keen.