The intrigue of Arabia: Sheikhs, camels, and undulating sand dunes stretching across the vast, pastel desert. Be part of this Arabian Adventure of the United Arab Emirates 🇦🇪 including:
- Skiing inside a shopping mall
- Visiting an oasis in the desert
- Standing atop the tallest man-made structure in the world, the Burj Khalifa
- Meeting my Emirati Doppelgänger
- Sand dune bashing in a 4×4 truck
- and so much more…!
Join us today to be part of An Arabian Adventure around the United Arab Emirates, starring my brother Devin, his girlfriend Joanne, and our fantastic tour guide Shan.
And making a special guest star appearance is my Emirati Twin, Aisha.
This, An Arabian Adventure, podcast is brought to you by Spice Road Travel.
Spice Road Travel – Connecting you to the Middle East.
Spice Road Travel planned this Adventure around the United Arab Emirates and can do the same for you!
Visit Spice Road Travel to learn about customizable tours you can take around Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Tell Spice Road Travel how you heard about them on Embolden Adventures and receive 5% off on your first Spice Road Travel booking
This trip to the United Arab Emirates, or the UAE, is the second half of our adventure in the Middle East. The first half of the trip was to Jordan to celebrate a wedding in the ancient Roman city, Jerash followed by a tour around the country to Petra, the Wadi Rum desert, the capital city of Amman, and the Red and Dead Seas. Check out A Wedding in Jordan podcast episodes and posts to learn more about this experience.
Joining me on this journey around the Middle East was my brother Devin and his girlfriend Joanne.
Yet again these two have found themselves joining me in my recruits to visit some new destination in the world. Pick a spot on the map, and let us go! Some of our past adventures together include swimming with the sharks in Palau, spending two grueling days hiking up Mt Fuji the hard way, deciphering the mysterious, monolithic moai statues on the most remote place on Earth: Easter Island, and nearly nose-diving in a plane when landing in the ancient kingdom of Bagan in Myanmar. Just what will we do next? So much more awaits so stay tuned.
♦ Go skiing in the Emirates Mall ♦ Travel to the camel races ♦ Visit Al Ain, an oasis in the desert ♦ Tour the city of Dubai including the Burj Khalifa, the Palm, and ziplining ♦ Travel to Abu Dhabi and tour Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque ♦ Go sand dune bashing through the desert ♦ Watch the sunset over the sand dunes and have an Arabian dinner in the desert ♦
About the United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates is one of the Gulf States on the Arabian Peninsula. The country is to the east of Saudi Arabia, southeast of Qatar, and Bahrain, north of Oman, northeast of Yemen and is across the Persian Gulf (or the Arabian Gulf– depending on who you ask) to Iran and Pakistan.
Despite its location, the UAE is a prosperous, safe country in the heart of a vast desert.
The United Arab Emirates became a country on December 2, 1971 so it is not even 50 years old yet.
For nearly 80 years, the British held a protectorate on the area having exclusive access to the land rich with oil and natural gas in exchange of military protection of the Sheikhdoms. The Sheikhdoms were nomadic desert tribes each lead by a ruler called a Sheikh.
The British relinquished their protectorate rule in 1968 and then helped to establish the United Arab Emirates as its own country. The seven Sheikhdoms came together to form the seven emirates of the country. They include: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Quwain. Each emirate is an absolute monarchy.
The Father of the Emirates was Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who was the ruler Abu Dhabi and the first President of the United Arab Emirates. The famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is named after him, and it is where we visited on our trip.
Now the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan rules the country as its President.
Sheikh Khalifa is the son of Sheikh Zayed. The names of the Sheikhs are in honor of the father and of the last name of the tribe. In this case, Zayed is the father of Khalifa as indicated by “bin” and the last part of the name “Al Nahyan” is of the Al Nahyan tribe.
The Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who is the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Dubai. He is from the Al Maktoum tribe. Sheikh Mohammed is credited for transforming Dubai into the global city that it is today from a city of sand and pearl trading posts just a mere decade ago.
Sheikh Mohammed is a big celebrity in the UAE. You can see him driving himself around town in his white Mercedes G-wagon without any bodyguards. You know it is he when you see the Dubai license plate #1. If you come across the Sheikh, ask him to take a selfie with you. He just may do it!
The flight to Dubai from Amman Jordan was under three hours long. As we flew over Dubai, located along the Persian Gulf coast, you can see the desert haze engulf the city that stretched to the seaside. Even the tallest tower in the world, the Burj Khalifa, could not hide from the desert elements.
On the tarmac, I could even feel the intensity of the heat from the plane.
We arrived to the United Arab Emirates in early May just as their hot season was beginning. If you travel to the Emirates, be sure to go during the cooler months between January and March. It is a bit more pleasant, and you can do more outdoor activities such as play a game of camel polo.
I was bummed not to have the opportunity to play a game of polo on a camel, but I did get the chance to go skiing.
Skiing in the Desert
Once we settled in and got our bearings, we took a short taxi ride to the Emirates Mall, one of many malls built in Dubai. Shopping is definitely the thing to do here, especially since it is an air-conditioned activity. People here try to maximize their time spent in the cool indoors.
The mall featured the typical clothing and sports stores you would find in just about any mall in the United States and beyond. The only difference is that next to the Sports Authority store is the entrance to Ski Dubai complete with penguins and chairlifts.
The area resembles a ski lodge with benches, lockers, and hot chocolate. To the left is the ski rental area for ski boots and skis. They give you a light ski jacket and ski pants to borrow and fleece gloves to wear and keep as a souvenir.
Get suited up and head up the escalator up to the ski slope. Having grown up skiing, I found getting on an escalator with my skis and ski boots to be a unique and amusing experience.
At the top of the escalator, the ski area reveals itself to you. It was a legit ski slope – two slopes in fact, with a snow making machine and a real working chairlift. Once entering the enclosed area, you are fully immersed into a winter wonderland of sorts.
Some people came not to ski but to ride the chairlift and enjoy the other winter activities. I noticed some of the locals taking the tour on the lift. Some men wore their long white tob garbs under their ski jackets with their white keffiyah headscarves. Some of the women wore their ski coats over their long black abaya robes and their headscarves and some faces veiled.
I had a hard, yet comical time in the beginning figuring out how to use the ski pull to the top of the expert trail. The ski pull has an awkward shape to it: A long spring pole with a circular seat attached to the bottom of it. Unlike the chairlift that operates automatically, the ski-pull is released by pulling down a lever using your ski pole. When let lose, the ski-pull violently whips around haphazardly in its spring motion. With a few clumsy, unsuccessful attempts to mount the ski-pull with my skis on my feet and poles in my hands, I could have knocked out any possible skier around me with a blow to the head. Fortunately, I was only one of 10 or so skier on the premises.
I spent about two hours running the trails: One trail was the expert run and the other was the beginners run. Both had some curves and steep areas and bumps. It took about two minutes or so to complete. As a skier, I started to enjoy these unconventional runs more and more and did not want to stop.
Once I did, I tried out the snow park that included an very small Olympic-like, luge track, a tiny hill for snow tubing, and a large, inflated zorb ball that you can enter into and roll down a very tiny hill.
The penguins were not out for display but rather we snow park guests were on display through the windows for the rest of the shopping mall to see. I finished up my ski experience, returned my rental gear, met up with Devin and Joanne at the mall, and then we headed back to the hotel for the night.
Finding an Oasis in the Desert
The next morning, we met our fantastic tour guide, Shan who greeted us at our hotel.
Shan would be taking us to an oasis city in the desert called Al Ain located in the Abu Dhabi emirate and on the border with Oman.
We first began our tour around some parts of Dubai. Shan showed us the massive palatial compound of Sheikh Mohammed in the center of the city and pointed out the growing city skyline on the horizon. Each new building seems to be taller than the next one and more were under construction.
Our first stop was outside of the city at the Camelicious market. Here we tried ice cream made out of camel milk, and they had camel milk, camel milk chocolate, and camel meat products for sale in the store.
Camel milk is supposed to be very nutritious and is high in proteins and vitamins including Vitamin C. I liked the taste of the milk as it is a smoother, more flavorful version of milk. It is 50% lower in fat than cow’s milk and it provides a big boost to the immune system. Interestingly, no known allergies to camel milk exist.
The popular camel racetrack was located nearby. Sheikh Mohammed, royals, and others race their prized camels similar to that of the horseraces at this track. The main difference though is that the jockey is not a petite human, or child in past cases of the camel races, but a little robot jockey.
Shan showed us a racing shop that repaired these robot jockeys. These little robots are dressed like jockeys having a little striped uniform, a ball for a head, and complete with a small jockey visor. Really these robots were power drills with an attached whip that spins in a circle. The robots are remote-control operated by the racers who are following the camel race along the side of the racetrack in their SUVs.
Our last stop around the track was to the camel stables to see the retired racing camels. These camels looked different from the ones we saw in Jordan, as they are much more slender and do not have a belly. The camels, or more precisely dromedaries as Shan reminded us, resembled more like a greyhound racing dog.
From the camel stables, we headed to Al Ain. The route between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is a flat, straight highway through the pastel colored desert sands with some roaming camels in the distance.
The name Abu Dhabi translates to “father of the gazelle”. The Al Nahyan nomadic tribe settled there some early time ago after following the gazelle to water.
Abu Dhabi had a personal significance to me, so I was excited to have this chance to visit, a chance I thought I never would have a reason to take.
Growing up as a kid in the 1980s, I would watch Saturday morning cartoons. A favorite of mine was Garfield and Friends. In almost every episode, Garfield would ship the kitten Nermal to Abu Dhabi. In the 1980s, Abu Dhabi seemed like a mysterious, far away place in the desert, and now here we were driving around the area with Shan.
And even better, the universe has a sense of humor. During a gas station stop, I saw this poster in the window of a Burger King: Garfield!
Finally, we arrive to Al Ain, also known as the Garden City. Al Ain is the second largest city in Abu Dhabi and a very wealthy one at that with gorgeous mansions aligned next to one another along the roads.
We pay a visit to the Al-Ain Palace Museum based on the original residence of Sheikh Zayed and then to the Al Ain National Museum that documents the history and culture of the country as far back as 4000 BC until today.
The Palace museum features an art gallery, many of the palace quarters on display, a replica grand court tent, and a Land Rover similar to the one driven by Sheikh Zayed to visit Bedouin communities around the desert.
At the museum, Shan explains to us the Arab custom of serving coffee to guests as we hear the call to prayer.
…about the Arab tradition of serving coffee? Coffee and dried dates are served to all the guests sitting in a circle around the fire. The server serves coffee to each guest starting at the one to his right, and then once everyone has been served, the server can then pour his own coffee. Coffee is served hot and into tiny cups large enough for just one sip of coffee. The server pours coffee three times without asking, and on the fourth serve, the recipient may choose to shake their cup, indicating no more. If the coffee is served cold or into larger cups, the act is considered rude or it could be a subtle message that the guest is not welcomed. Conversely, it is considered rude if the guest sniffs the coffee or dates before ingesting.
The day was quite hot so we sought refuge from the heat at the museum and then in a shopping mall where we stopped for lunch.
Next we drove to the Green Mubazzarah natural springs and oasis. The springs are located at the foothills of the Jabel Hafeet rocky mountain ridge that form the border between the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
We had the opportunity to go for a swim, but at over 112 degrees, it was way too hot to be outdoors for an extended period of time. No one was outside except us really. Instead we drove around in the car to explore the area. It looked a bit like Palm Springs in California with palm trees, desert mountains, and bright sunshine.
One of the royal palaces was at the base of the mountains. A second royal palace is built at the top of these mountains up on the second highest point in all of the United Arab Emirates.
To access this point, we drove up a long, windy mountain road called Jabel Hafeet Mountain Road. The Germans masterfully engineered this road having built the solid foundation into the brittle mountain.
According to Shan, this road is rated as one of the top driving roads in the world, and I could see why with the gorgeous, pastel desert views from a bird’s eye vantage point. The road is 11.7 kilometers or 7 miles in length and climbs up 1200 meters or to about 4000 feet high.
Car manufacturers test out their new car models on this road gauging how well the cars take the corners or zip down the road. We saw a few new models getting a test drive as we drove to the top.
Ripples of pastel colored sand dunes stretched to the blurred horizon. These dunes may have seemed small but were actually a hundred or so feet tall at their peaks. This desert is also known as “The Empty Quarters” because of the significant difficulty in making a transit. It spans Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The country border between Oman and the United Arab Emirates is located here lined by a metal gate and the graffiti covered side of a mountain.
I watched a stray cat leisurely walk through the spaces of the gate to cross into Oman. So I thought to do the same. I put my foot though the fence so now at least I can say I set foot into the country of Oman.
The Tallest Building in the World
We headed back to Dubai that night and toured the city the next day.
The name Dubai is thought to translate to “transit” or “money”. Over many centuries, it was a strategic location on the Persian Gulf for trade, especially for trading pearls and fish. Dubai was known for its export of its locally sourced pearls to areas around the world until the advent of cultured pearl pioneered by the Japanese.
It had limited oil resources and so Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the father of Sheikh Mohammend, used trading revenues to begin to develop its city infrastructure including hotels, airports, ports, and roads. Now Dubai is a mega city, breaking world record after record and engaging in massive initiatives such as building a complete indoor city by 2020.
Our first stop was to the Dubai Mall where the entrance to the Burj Khalifa is located. At 2722 feet, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest structure in the world ever built by humans, and subsequently the tallest building in the world at the moment with 163 floors.
Rumor has it though that Saudi Arabia is constructing a taller building than the Burj Khalifa located in Jeddah but also Dubai will be constructing an even taller building to hold on to the record. We’ll see what happens.
The Burj Khalifa is named after Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the United Arab Emirates.
In 2004, Sheikh Mohammed began construction on his grand plan to build the tallest building in the world. Originally named Burj Dubai, meaning Dubai tower, the Burj Khalifa was running behind construction schedule and costing more than originally planned at US$1.5 billion. To be able to open the Burj Khalifa on time by 2010, Sheikh Khalifa stepped in to provide financial assistance. On the day of the grand unveiling the building was renamed after Sheikh Khalifa, paying honor to him.
We went up to the outdoor observation deck on the 124th floor and then climbed up the indoor spiral staircase to see another view from the 125th floor. Inside the Burj offers panoramic views of the entire sprawling city of Dubai stretching out to the desert’s edge.
Cars below looked like the size of a pinhead. Surrounding buildings were lego-sized. It was incredible to be standing this high in the sky looking out as far I as I could see into the desert that blended into the hazy horizon.
Be sure to get to the Burj early as the heat and sandstorms later in the day could impact your view. That day we were there felt like a very hot, dry day in Las Vegas.
From this view, we could see the Burj al Arab al Jumeirah – or better known as the sailboat hotel. Looking out to the Persian Gulf, we could see the World, the man-made 300-island chain laid out in the shape of the Earth’s continents.
The next stop on our city tour was to go ziplining between city buildings, across the fountains and the Burj Khalifa, and landing at the Dubai Mall. Ziplining was fun and a quick way to cool off at the high noon heat. We met two guys from Oman who joined us for the zipline adventure.
Next we took a double decker tour bus to see the city. Our first stop was through the Jumeirah district to see the Burj Al Arab up close along the water. The word Jumeriah means pearl. Then we drove through the Palm that is another collection of man-made islands in the Persian Gulf and formed in the shape of a Palm Tree. We made a quick stop to the Atlantis hotel located at the top of the Palm before heading onward.
We traveled along the 16-lane highway Sheikh Zayed Road, the longest road in the United Arab Emirates, and passed through the Financial District and then onto the heritage sites passing the Gold and Spice Souqs in the old district of Deria. Lastly, we took a breezy old-fashioned boat ride on the water in the Al Faihidi historic district of Dubai.
The Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi
After spending the day in the city of Dubai, we spent the next day in the city of Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. This trip was to visit the opulent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, to tour the city and to meet my Emirati twin, Aisha.
Abu Dhabi is a beautiful city. It has brand new, architecturally modern and unique skyscrapers concentrated in the downtown area near the coast. The houses are the size of mansions along the broad boulevards and the city is a pristine clean.
From the highway we can begin to see the gorgeous Grand Mosque. Made of white Italian marble, it reflects the sunlight like a dome. Known as “The White Pearl of the Gulf”, The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the third largest mosque in the world behind the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. It cost almost $600mm to build.
Sheikh Zayed commissioned this mosque in 1996 but he passed away before its completion in 2007. His final resting place is located here.
The mosque is spaced over 30 acres. It has 4 minarets that are 107 feet tall and 82 smooth domes with the center dome ranking as the largest in the world. A water moat marks its perimeter in a royal blue color that contrasts vibrantly to the white marble. The Italians built it yet it resembles a bit of the Taj Mahal to me. The mosque has inspired Persian, Moorish, and Mughal touches. I felt like I was in the movie Aladdin it had that sort of Arabian feel to it.
Before we could enter the area, Joanne and I had to borrow free black abaya robes at the rental area. Like in any important place of worship, we were to respect the customs and dress conservatively.
We covered our heads with the hijab and wore the abaya. Since I was wearing pants, the one given to me only went down to my knees looking a bit like a poncho. The reality was I wanted a longer one to cover down to my ankles just like everybody else!
Spending a few days in the United Arab Emirates now, I have see that it is customary and somewhat functional for men to wear the long white tob robes and covering their head with a keffiyeh and the women to wear the long black abaya robes and covering their heads with a hijab. Back in the day when these Bedouins were nomadic tribes traveling in camel caravans through the desert, it was important to cover your entire body including your face with a covering called a niqab to protect yourself from the blowing sand and the hot sun. The conditions in the desert can be extreme with temperatures reaching 120 or even 130 degrees in the high sun and between 40 and 50 degrees in the middle of the night.
People today still walk around in these custom garbs as one elsewhere in the world would in their customary collared shirts tucked into their khakis or skirts. In fact, the outfit is so comfortable we were told that some even are wearing their pajamas underneath their outfits.
While the temperature was over 110 and the sun was very hot, the mosque provided a coolness in the shaded areas. The marble was also very cool to the touch and the air was fragrant because of the incense called a bahoor that was pumped into the air.
Semi precious stones of lapis lazuli, agate, fancy jasper, amethyst, and mother of pearl with colors of blues, browns, reds, purples, yellows and greens are inlaid in the marble throughout the mosque. The columns throughout the mosque are crowned in gold. A grand plaza is the in the center of the mosque, and it too has a large flower design made up of semi-precious stones.
The mosque was filled with tourists taking many photos especially a panoramic shot because it was impossible not to: The place was too beautiful not to miss.
The foyer area was comprised of two walls of marble designed with strands of flowers, leaves and stems, all made out of semi-precious stones. Inside the mosque was just as gorgeous. The colors were of pastel peaches, greens, golds, and blues. Seven jeweled chandeliers that are plated in copper and 24 carat gold hang throughout the area. One of the chandeliers is the largest in the world at 10 meters (or 30 feet) in diameter and 15 meters (or 50 feet) high and decorated with 1 million Swarovski crystals. And the floor is covered in a hand-made Persian rug, also the largest hand-woven rug in the world made by 1200 weavers.
On the wall, the name of Allah is written in Arabic in 99 different ways such as The Forgiver, The Giver, and The Kind.
The Grand Mosque is worth a visit and can be toured in about an hour and a half or so. A smaller version is being constructed in Aqaba Jordan as a gift to the country by the UAE. Read more about the trip to Jordan with a visit to Aqaba here.
Meeting My Emirati Twin
From the mosque, Shan took us to the opulent Ritz Carlton where we would meet Aisha, my Emirati Doppelgänger, for the first time. Read more about how I discovered that I had an Arab Twin here.
From the lobby facing outward, a long carpet of green grass stretched towards the façade of the Grand Mosque. The angle of the sun gave the mosque a shadowy look and a definitive outline of its edges.
I was excited and nervous all at once. What I thought would have been a simple meet and greet over a coffee, turned out to be an awesomely random day into the evening with Aisha.
As her guests, Aisha offered to treat us to a traditional Emirati lunch at a nearby Emirati restaurant, Al Fanar. We sat on the floor cushions in a private room reminiscent of the old Bedouin traditions. Aisha ordered us a sampling of the many Emirati dishes of rice, curries, shrimp, chicken, and lamb.
The customary way is to eat the meal with three fingers of your right hand, gently squeezing the food and then placing it into your mouth, similar to how we ate the mansaf in Jordan. Aisha served us coffee in the same tradition as Shan described to us in Al Ain. Also, she ordered us traditional desserts and sweets of honey, fried dough and pumpkin. One of these desserts resembled the Italian zeppole dessert that Devin and I fondly remembered eating as children during the holidays when we would visit our Italian grandparents in Brooklyn.
We talked about all sorts of things as we all go to know one another: American TV shows, cars, careers, customs, food, and travel. Aisha, Devin, and Joanne bonded over their love of sports cars and Formula One racing.
Once we finished lunch, Aisha offered to give us a personal tour of the city. She drove us around the area and then over to Yas Island where Ferrari World and the Yas Marina Circuit were located. Here was the Formula One Race track where the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is held, and we were excited to get up close to it.
It just so happened a supped-up car show was going on followed by drag racing event. All we could hear were revving engines and screeching tires.
Aisha managed to score us all VIP tickets for a spot up close at the starting line near the track – see how she did it on this An Arabian Adventure podcast. We spent a long, terrific while together, but then Aisha had to leave for another engagement.
She kindly arranged for her driver to give us a tour of the city at night. We said our goodbyes and asked her driver to take us back downtown to the Emirates Palace hotel, a seven star hotel that was once made to be a royal palace. Opened in 2005, the Emirates Palace is the second most expensive hotel built at $3 billion. The most expensive hotel ever built at the moment is the Marina Sands Hotel in Singapore.
Located on a roundabout to the left of a grand palace, The Emirates Palace sits atop a hill and peaks out over the lush gardens of trees and fountains. From the distance the Emirates Palace is illuminated in gold by the evening spotlights. The hotel has 114 domes that stand at over 250 feet high. Luxury and sports cars line the parking lot.
The inside was grandiose and spacious. The hotel is gilded in gold and lined in marble. The interior centerpiece is the very tall circular atrium decorated with a large gilded star. Of course, even the bathrooms were lined in gold. Six Rulers Suites reserved exclusively for royals and dignitaries comprise the top floor of the hotel.
We enjoyed our brief moment of opulence and decadence and then met up with Aisha’s driver to head back for the evening to our more modest accommodations!
Sand Dune Bashing in the Desert
The next morning Shan met us at the hotel and took us to the Sharjah emirate where we would go sand dune bashing in his special 4×4 truck.
We drove out to the desert in the morning passing through Dubai. The mega city soon turned into a flat barren desert landscape. Right away we could begin to feel the intensity of the heat through the car.
Shan took us to the Maliha Desert in an area not well traveled to by tourists. We drove off road to the dunes some over 40 feet high and undulating like ocean waves. With the strength of the wind, the heights of these dunes vacillate over time. The sand had an orange red color to it, and it beautifully contrasted against the tan colored, rocky mountains in the distance. It had delicate ripples from the wind that was blowing consistently and strongly.
Shan released some of the air out of the tires and got the car ready as we explored the area. He is very experienced at driving the dunes and has a specially made car with an inner roll bar, a GPS tracking device, and other sensors on the car in case of an emergency. It seemed as if we were in the middle of nowhere – one wrong turn without the right equipment could spell disaster.
It was hot. The sand was burning to the touch. The sun was intense. I immediately started to sweat, but interestingly enough it evaporated away so quickly.
The temperature was already 113 degrees and it would rise to 118 degrees or about 48 degrees Celsius, the hottest temperature I’ve ever experienced. Dead branches of the poisonous Sodum’s Apple trees strewn around are so dried out that they felt as light as a feather. Interestingly no cactus plants grow in this desert.
I walked up to the top of a few of the sand dunes. With each step up the slope, the sand rolls down the hill, covering my tracks. The sand is still dense enough to not cave in with each foot-step as it would walking in snow.
Shan was ready to take us dune bashing. We got back into the car and drove up, down, and to the side of the hills. It felt like a rollercoaster. At times we were at nearly 90 degree angles – good thing for our seatbelts because we were fully suspended out of our seats on some of these dunes.
Shan drove us to two spots: Camel rock and fossil rock. Camel rock was a rock outcropping in the middle of the desert shaped like, you guessed it, a camel. I posed for a few photos wearing my bright pink pants and my kaffiyah red and white checkered scarf on my head. At fossil rock, Shan pointed out fossil impressions of shells from millions of years ago when this area was covered in ocean.
We continued driving around until we saw a herd of camels appear. They were leisurely walking in a line, with nothing to do or nowhere to be it seemed. This scene made for an iconic desert photo with the rolling waves of sand, the camels and the mountains in the distance. Shan drove up closer to the camels so we could take these photos from the comfort of the car and air conditioning. We were not roughing it as badly as the photos may suggest otherwise.
Our next stop was to another area to drive on the sand dunes. This area was the popular spot for the tourists to go driving around in the caravans of white cars or in this case, the modern day camel. Before that though, Shan surprised us with a falcon. I posed for a picture with the falcon on my hand, guided by one of the Bedouin keepers.
Falcons are revered birds by the Bedouins and it is the national bird of the United Arab Emirates. The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal on the planet when it nose-dives in the sky, reaching speeds of up to 240 miles per hour.
We drove around the sand dunes some more until the late afternoon. Then Shan took us to an open-air Arabian dinner under the stars with local entertainment and cuisine such as shawerma.
I watched the sun set over the rolling dunes of the desert. With the pastel colors and the perfect circle of the sun, it was one the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen in all my travels.
This dinner was the grand finale to our Arabian Adventure around the United Arab Emirates. It was an unforgettable, enjoyable trip.
Special thanks to Shan for his wonderful tour services, and thanks to Spice Road Travel for arranging the trip for the group!
Remember to subscribe to the Embolden Adventures podcast on iTunes.
And sign up on the Embolden Adventures website to receive email updates and new content on travel adventures.
Until next time Adventurers