Dubai: Dune Bashing

Image: Dubai Tourism

Halima Ali heads out to the desert for a morning of dune bashing

I stare at the sick bag, take a deep breath, close my eyes and wonder what possessed me to eat that banana at the end of breakfast. I’d been instructed to eat light before a morning of dune bashing – riding at high speed over the soaring desert sand dunes. It’s a popular tourist activity for thrill-seekers in the Emirates, but not exactly easy on the stomach.

We stop briefly alongside five identical 4WDs inside the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, and as our driver, Faisal, deflates the tyres to get a better grip on the soft sand, I take the opportunity to experience it myself, watching my trainers sink into the golden grains underfoot.

A shout from Faisal interrupts my thoughts and we’re on our way again, passing some surprisingly green bushes, a palm oasis and docile-looking Arabian oryx and gazelle. This feels more like a desert safari, but just as I begin to relax, the car abruptly jolts into action, rapidly picking up speed and heading to the top of our first sand dune.

I grip the seat in front of me, and as we reach the peak and slowly roll over the top to start our descent, I feel like I’m at the top of a roller coaster with a bird’s-eye view through the windscreen. Someone lets out a squeal, and I’m overcome with nervous laughter when my body elevates off my seat before being pinned back down with a thud by my seatbelt.

On the second dune, I try to fight the urge to close my eyes at the top. I fail. The piles of sand are deceptive – from a distance they don’t look so high, but that perspective changes when you reach the summit and find yourself looking down.

As we drive further into the desert, the temperature rises and I find beads of sweat dripping down my face. I long for some respite and scrabble for the air-conditioning slats. Suddenly, we grind to a halt; the car in front has a sick passenger. Stepping outside to take a breather, I look around at the landscape, which appears identical no matter which way I turn. “How do you know the way?” I ask Faisal. “I’ve been doing this for a few years. I know my way around,” he replies.

Back in the 4WD, we make our ascent one last time and unexpectedly come to a complete standstill. The car is unsteadily balanced on the very edge of the dune, leaning worryingly far to the right. We teeter there for what seems like an age, with no one saying a word – including our previously chatty driver.

Eventually, after cutting the steering wheel back and forth several times, we’re released from the grip of the sand, and as we reach the tarmac road that leads back to the city, I slump back in my seat and breathe a sigh of relief.

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