Deserts and Diesel

The first thing I noticed about the desert out here is that it was different. Of course it makes sense, that should have been obvious, but I think it was the subtlety that I noticed most. I know what a desert looks like of course, but I hadn’t realised just how much my perception of what this would look and feel like was shaped by what already knew in Australia. The dunes weren’t the shapes I thought they’d be, much stouter than the ones behind beaches on the east coast, and there were a lot more of them. The desert grasses were still there, but they weren’t as high as spinifex, and there seemed to be less shrubs. The sand changed colour as we moved to different places. It started off a more yellow colour near the city, then gradually became more red and orange. Up close, I noticed the dunes were made up of layers of colours, probably changing every day as the winds blew different grains over each other. There were reds, blacks, yellows and greys.

I’d never seen sand dunes move before though. The patterns in the sand were made by gusts of wind, blowing a few thousand grains over each time, and you could actually see it happening in places. It was fascinating to watch! The dunes are changing minute to minute, every day of every year

Desert safaris are famous in major cities around the gulf, and one of the major tourist attractions. Apparently there are about 150 companies offering safaris out of Dubai alone. Most safaris are operated in groups, and we see several other 4WD envoys in the distance from most of our photo stops. Worryingly, every vehicle is fitted with a cage roll inside the car – although ours had a leather covering, so as not to ruin the interior style! Our driver laughs it off, saying its mandatory safety requirements, and that he’s so good at what he does he’s “better than Emirates airline.” The skill of the drivers is something else, which you truly appreciate when the sand is spinning out in clouds from under the tyres, doing Tokyo–drift style moves to control the car across the dunes. Each day, they need to alter their route, and manage to remember they way across the dunes with few stable landmarks. We’re reminded of this when one car in front of us nose dives a little into the sand, making its front wheel stuck, and needed to be pulled out by rope by the other drivers.


In a way, I think a desert safari also sums up Dubai quite nicely. There were people, there were cars, there were electricity lines and there were buildings, always off somewhere to the right of a camera shot. The desert had been tamed somewhat by the people who lived here. One of the world’s major cities was just an hour away to the east, and then about an hour to the west the desert ended at the foot of the Hatta mountains. Despite the harshness of the desert, it seemed to be manageable; a fun sight-see afternoon activity in air conditioned cars to avoid the 37 degree heat, the back to Dubai’s metropolis of grandiose architecture immediately afterwards.

I can’t imagine that in Australia. I can’t imagine this kind of city ever springing up in the red centre, or the Simpson desert. I can’t imagine this happening anywhere else in the world really. Beaches and islands made to look like the palm trees, ice rinks and aquariums inside huge shopping malls, and the things made large for the sake of laying claim to being the biggest in the world. It’s worth seeing such a spectacle, but it’s almost too bizarre to understand

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