I wasn’t exactly sure what dune-bashing meant prior to my trip to the United Arab Emirates in 2011. Truth is, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant even as our driver stopped at the foot of the Rub’ al Khali desert to deflate the tires of our 4×4.
I was beyond ecstatic to set foot in the desert for the first time in my life. I had pictured this moment so often, and would mentally replay the overwhelming feeling one must experience when seeing that seemingly endless expanse of sand for the first time. I had fantasized about Arabia for so long, that when fantasy became reality and we were approaching the towering dunes, I could barely believe that I would be spending the night in the Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world.
Au programme, a typical desert safari designed for tourists, created for the purpose of educating travelers on the desert way of life. Falconery, riding camels, a typical BBQ, perhaps even a belly dancer would be our enjoyments for the evening. The touristy aspect of all this went way above my head, for I felt comfortable with the formula. After all, I was a tourist -with my eagerness, my curiosity and my awe for all things Arabian. So I signed up for the whole package, which included dune-bashing as an activity prior to heading to the camp.
I might have been too taken by all this to really stop and ponder at what the term bashing made reference to. I knew we would be driving through the desert for a good hour, that we would reach Big Red, that gigantic red-hued sand dune just in time for the sunset.
What I didn’t know was that we’d be starting the said bashing as soon as we would reach the sand, which came as a surprise since Rub’ al Khali wasn’t exactly waiting for us on the other side of a door. One minute we were driving on the road, the next we were driving on sand, then on sand dunes.
Gigantic sand dunes.
Thoughts rushed through my head, which sounded a bit like this: ‘DESERT! We’re in the desert!! Oh this is stunning!!! I cannot believe it!!!! WOW does he need to drive so fast?! I can’t snap pictures if he goes so FAAAAAAST!!!’
And there it was. The plungeon to my death. Or, should I say, the first plungeon to my many deaths.
Because dune-bashing is exactly what its name advertises. The truck bashes the dunes. Hard. Violently. From very high. And very fast.
So once this had made its way into my brain and I decided I was ok with the whole thing, I had to actually make myself understand that I needed to trust my driver with my life. Let’s face it; the guy was a pro, he had done this a million times, but he still was working crazy hard and his keffiyeh couldn’t hide the beads of sweat pearling on his forehead.
I decided to let go (figure of speech! I did not actually let go of that car handle. Are you crazy?!) and enjoy the moment, as unreal as it was, and for as long as it was going to go on.
We swiveled and turned and rolled up and down the dunes, and at times slided without control when the dunes collapsed. Know this: sand is a volatile element. It can be compact, like in the sandbox you had when you were a kid, or like the beach in Cancun that keeps receding every year. But in the wild, say, like in the desert, it piles up and is shaped into mountains by the wind. Absolutely no areas around us were flat; the dunes were high, then deep, then high again but with a very narrow peak, on which we’d be driving on 2 wheels before plunging ahead at a speed most incomprehensible to my traumatized mind.
Quite the experience.
It is, without a doubt, the most extreme activity I have ever done in my life, and I’m happy to be alive to tell the tale.
So where does the travel fail bit of this whole adventure come in?
Well, let me tell you something. When you go dune-bashing, set your priorities straight. First you can enjoy the extreme adventure, then you can take photographs of your surroundings. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to do both at the same time.
Also: calm down.
I’ll conclude with a physical law. When in motion, the body needs to concentrate on the events currently happening, and you must not try to focus on holding a steady gaze, for example through your camera lens. Why, you ask? Because in certain situations, bodily functions are overpowering, such as when your body feels movements & hard jolts, but your eyes are not following these movements & jolts, being busy looking through the aforementioned lens. This causes your brain to shut down, resulting in…
a good amount of barf.
For the sole purpose of illustrating my adventure, I thought it’d be fun to include aesthetically-pleasing (!) pictures taken at weird angles of dramatically steep dunes and tire tracks going up and down the bumpy landscape.
My best shot is definitely this one:
For less nauseating photos, stay tuned for my upcoming post on my incredible experience in Rub’ al Khali.