Overnight in the desert

Trip Start Jan 01, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Gulf Adventure Tours

Flag of Qatar  ,
Thursday, December 31, 2009

Yesterday we slept in again, but this time on purpose. We packed our bags - one to leave at our hotel for the following night, and one to take with us on our overnight safari in the desert. Then we checked out of our hotel, leaving our safari bag there, and walked our large suitcase over to the nearby hotel where we are staying for New Year's Eve.

Once we were luggage free, we walked to Souq Waqif for some late breakfast. We ate on the terrace at a restaurant called Cafe Tasse from Brussels. The menu primarily featured pasta and pizza. I ordered a caramel cream frappe as my beverage and it was amazing! I couldn't stop drinking it, and had to really exercise my willpower to save some for when my penne arrived. I barely had enough to wash down the mildly spiced pasta, which was nice tasting.

After lunch we walked slowly back to our hotel, stopping briefly in a few shops along the way. Our safari driver arrived at 1:30pm to pick us up. He seemed a bit rude. He asked us if we were waiting for the tour and then told us to get in the car. We got in the back and noticed a sticker on the dashboard on the passenger sign. It was the woman figure you see on many washroom signs, with a red line through it. In other words, no women. Nice.

We then drove to a large dirt parking lot outside a grocery store. Here we waited for some time while other vehicles arrived with people, and 4 people met us in the parking lot. The vehicles were all very big, nice 4WD SUVs that could seat 6 passengers. Ours ended up at max capacity.

Finally we had our group and were ready to go. Our convoy drove out to Sealine Beach Resort, where we were yesterday. We stopped outside in the desert sand where camels were waiting for us. We all had the chance to go for a little camel-back ride. The camels would lower themselves to the ground, buckling first their bony front legs then the back pair. The saddle was actually comfortable but you have to lean forward a bit to grip onto the handlebars in front of you. And its pretty important you do hold on because they get back up on their hooves rather awkwardly, making you feel close to falling off. Then the walk itself, you still don't want to let go because their gait is so strange. There doesn't seem to be an rhythm to it at all. Luckily the ride is not very long; really just enough to give you the impression that you don't want to go very far on a camel's back.

Then it was time to dismount. But first the camel has to lower itself, with you on its back. This is where I was sure I was going to go flying off, and I really didn't want to because Wolfi's camel in front of me was already on the ground and I had seen him baring his teeth earlier. He was the only one without a cover over his mouth and I imagined that was because nobody could get close enough to his mouth to put one on. I lurched forward as my camel sank onto his front knees, and then lurched back as the back legs buckled beneath us. I was still in the saddle! I dismounted awkwardly and gave him a little pat, discovering the longer hair between the neck and hump is quite soft. Wolfi's camel snapped his jaws and shook his head as I walked past. It wasn't personal though; he did this with everyone.

While we waited for everyone to have their turn, the drivers let some air out of the tires of our vehicles to prepare for our dune bashing experience. Then we were loaded back into the SUVs and away we went into the golden mountains and valleys of the Arabian desert.

Our driver was crazy, it turns out, and excellent at scaring the crap out of us. But you could tell he knew what he was doing so it wasn't a my-life-is-in-danger kind of fear. He also seemed to cheer up considerably while we were out on the dunes.

I never expected the desert to be so beautiful but it was really something to see. We would climb up the sides of high hills of sand and drive along the spine where we could see the Persian Gulf on one side, and more hills and valleys of sand in every other direction. There was no end to the sand.

Our driver would drive down sideways on the highest dunes, and really give us a scare when there was water below it because the side driving gave you the sensation that the vehicle was going to roll. At first the girls were screaming. Not me, obviously, I'm not a wimp. But I was definitely participating in the gasping. You could hear the passengers gasp and hold their breath as one. But he would straighten us out before it was too late, and the entire group of us let out a sigh of relief. And then everyone would laugh.

We took a few breaks from the dune bashing, but in total it was more than two hours. I think the breaks were necessary because there were moments where I felt a bit sick, and getting out and walking around for a few minutes made me good to go for another thrilling ride over the dunes.

We stopped at the "inland sea", where a creek from the Persian Gulf runs into the desert. It runs into the desert from a section of the sea that lies between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, so we could see some mountains in Saudi from where we stood on a high dune. It was beautiful. The sea was in front of us, the moon to our left, and the sun setting on our right.

Finally we headed to our camp as the sun lowered behind the dunes. We got to camp just after dusk, but it is still quite bright in the desert at night with a full moon overhead and a sparkling sea alongside it.

The camp is really cool. It is a large rectangle, lined with large Bedouin tents. In the middle is a row of table tops resting on a carpet in the sand, each surrounded by large cushions. These are our dining tables. They had tiki torches lit throughout the camp and beyond the tents was a large sand field with a volleyball net, surrounded by patio tables and chairs. From this area you look directly out at the sea, which is only two or three metres away from the perimeter at high tide.

Since it was dark by 5:30pm, the night seemed to last forever. We ate a delicious barbecue dinner, then chatted with the other campers. There were 17 of us all together, from all over the place. We played cards with a group of 8 traveling together. Most of them were English teachers here in Qatar. One girl was a flight host for the national airline. The rest were visiting their teacher friends or family, except for one man visiting his son who was not with the tour (I guess some people have to work).

After what seemed like hours of playing and socializing, we realized it was only around 8pm. I asked the staff if it was true there was shisha, as it had said on our itinerary. The guy said there was and asked if we would like it now. I said there was no hurry, but I guess he could tell I was being polite because he said "I will bring it".

There were three shishas for the camp to share, but we managed to get our fill. We were guessing what the flavours were and I think in the end it was decided the two we had were apple and strawberry. I really couldn't tell you, but they both tasted very nice.

After the tobacco ran out, it was still very early but luckily the staff saved us from boredom by calling us to a bonfire behind the tents, by the volleyball field. It was huge! They really outdid themselves and it was also very warm which was great because the desert night is quite chilly.

We all stood around the bonfire until it was reduced to a few blocks of glowing wood. Then it was time for bed. We had to get up at 6am for breakfast. We decided to get up at 5:30 to watch the sun rise over the Persian Gulf. We retired to our Bedouin tent, which Wolfi and I had to ourselves. We slept on single mattresses that doubled as small sofas, wrapped in sleeping bags. I was surprisingly warm. The thick cloth of the tent was enough to keep the cold air out.

I got up in the middle of the night to use the outhouse facilities, and when I was back in my sleeping bag I heard the strangest noise. It sounded like someone saying "ow, ow, ow", but it was not a human voice. I thought it must be some strange bird, and listened to it making its strange sound as it moved along outside our tent. It sounded very close. I thought it could be a lizard. There must be a lot in the desert, though we hadn't seen any yet.

In the morning we got up for sunrise. We brushed our teeth next to the gulf and waited. And waited. And waited. At 6am the sky was a soft pink and it was no longer dark, but we couldn't actually see the sun. It was trapped behind a wall of haze. We went for breakfast.

About 15 minutes into our light meal, someone noticed the sun was out and we all went dashing for the volleyball area. It was a brilliant red ball hanging low over the sparkling waves of the sea, the sky around it pink and violet. I'm glad we didn't miss it but would have loved the extra 30 minutes of sleep!

After breakfast I walked around the camp grounds and took some photos. While I was doing this I noticed some animal tracks. One of the staff was nearby so I asked him if he knew what it was from. He said it is a "small tiger" that lives in the desert. It was very strange, as it only looked like the tracks made by one paw. So it would make sense that it was some kind of desert cat lurking around the camp. I told him about the noises I heard the night before and he said maybe it was the same animal. So I walked around the back of our tent and looked for tracks. There were some tracks there that could have been from the same animal but it was hard to say. The track I first noticed was on the hard, packed sand whereas the sand behind our tent is quite soft. However, it is certainly possible because our tent is right next to the barbecue which would be a great place for a cat to stop in for a midnight snack.
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tl on

This is cool. Your rode a camel.

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