Rising with the fiery desert sun
Despite the presence of unknown critters and the absence of loos, a city-bred youngster enjoys the perks of Dubai's stark outdoors
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where it is hot for most of the year, the short season of pleasant weather from November to March is considered precious. Residents of Dubai—where my husband, I and our six-year-old daughter moved last year—make a beeline for the outdoors, sandboarding, hiking and camping.
So when my cousin invited us to join him, his wife and nine-year-old son on an overnight camping trip, we were ecstatic. My husband and I are camping novices, so going with someone who has the experience and equipment was perfect for us. It would be my daughter’s first foray into the outdoors.
On the appointed day, our start was delayed by half an hour, making my cousin impatient. I attributed this to him being a hyper planner, but once we were on our way, I realized why he was worried. There were numerous other cars driving toward the Al Hajar mountains in Fujairah, where we were headed. He was worried that the best spots would be taken if we were delayed. Rushing us through our midway coffee, toilet and fuel break, he drove as fast as he legally could to get to the camping spot ahead of any other group. In the outdoors, the rule of firsts holds, and those who arrive at a spot first, get to stake claim.
Once there, it was a race against the dark to get camp set up. The trailer hitched behind the car was a wagon that contained a large folded sheet of canvas which opened into a split-level tent, big enough to sleep five. While my cousin and his wife got busy setting it up, my husband and I unloaded the luggage, arranged the folding chairs and tables, made the beds, and got the fire started.
The children were busy scampering up the hills that surrounded us. The effect of open space on them was amazing. Being the city-bred child that my daughter is, there was some teething trouble. But having made her peace with getting her clothes and shoes dusty, she found her balance on loose rocks, and came to terms with the possibility of being in close proximity to unknown creatures. And, after 5 minutes of tentative exploring, she set off like a mountain goat.
Once darkness descended, cooking took centre stage. Slow, charcoal-cooked food is a special treat, but it definitely can test your patience. Unlike the surety that comes with cooking food in the oven for a fixed amount of time and at a set temperature, there were no guarantees here. But when we did get it right, it seemed like food fit for the gods. The roasted sweet potatoes seasoned with salt, pepper, and grated cheese satisfied both my stomach and soul.
After dinner everyone settled into comfortable spots around the fire. Conversations veered towards stories of past adventures in the UAE, neighbouring Oman, and distant lands like Zimbabwe. A spectacular meteor shower was predicted to take place that night, but as the hours slipped by, the sky stayed reticent and all we saw was a smattering of stars. Eventually we called it a night.
It was difficult to crawl out of bed the next morning, but watching the sun rise in the hills held sufficient allure for me. I made my way to the edge of the hill and perched myself on a rock. The rays of the sun kissed the hilltops around me, bathing the entire scene in a dewy yellow glow. An Oriental Magpie-robin flitted around a lone thorny bush nearby. My mind was not racing in a hundred directions and I felt a silence that I seldom feel in the city. I felt the warm morning sun caress my fingers. I heard the wind make a low whistling sound. And I felt alive like one does only out in the open, in nature’s lap.
After a breakfast of omelettes and croissants, we started to wrap up. If setting up a camp involved considerable work, packing up was no easy task either. Everything had to go back in its right place, so the next time we’d find all the things easily. Will there be a next time? For sure. Once you’ve tasted the pleasures of being in the outdoors, there’s no looking back. Even my daughter, who was aghast that there were no toilets, can’t wait to go back out there again.