As a first-time visitor to Dubai, I was adamant about including a desert safari on my itinerary. I went with Platinum Heritage based on a personal recommendation from a friend, but it was one of the more expensive tour options. There were several companies that offered these safaris, many of which could be found on Groupon, Viator, and Cobone. I wasn’t interested in the adventure of dune bashing or sand boarding, and preferred a more authentic experience in the desert. Platinum Heritage offered that, so I have no regrets about choosing them.
I received an email from them the morning of my tour that provided the exact pickup time from my hotel. When I arrived at my hotel lobby, the guide was there already waiting for me. He guided me to a Ford Expedition, where there was another guest inside. We all went to another hotel to pickup four other guests, so our group included six people and a personal guide. We rode about 40 minutes to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, and received a swag bag with a refillable water bottle for the day. We took a short break to don headscarves to protect our faces from the desert sand. From there, we transferred from the Ford Expedition to a vintage Land Rover and began our drive through the Arabian Desert.
Our guide educated us on the desert during the drive, and pointed out all of the interesting creatures and plants thriving in the second largest subtropical desert in the world. We noticed several Arabian oryx, which were once considered extinct. I was on the lookout for snakes and other poisonous creatures, and was grateful that I saw none.
As we cruised through the desert, one of the sheikh’s daughters was nearby during her horseback riding lesson. I found it interesting that Emirates royalty were able to live life free of the overbearing security that was common for U.S. presidents. An American couple on the tour had been living in Dubai for over 15 years, and they both chuckled when I mentioned it. According to them, Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, was known to pop up at the most random places without security. Imagine living in a land where a ruler didn’t have to worry about being assassinated in the style of John F. Kennedy.
We made a few stops for photos, then arrived at the location for the falcon show. Some may say that falcons are the pride and joy of the country – more beloved than some of the humans. Bedouins used them for hunting food, and falconry has become a popular sport in the country. The falconer showed off this bird’s natural speed and instincts while the crowd sipped sparkling date juice.
We departed the falcon show and arrived at a bedouin camp as the sun set. There were demonstrations on henna tattoos, bread making, Arabic coffee roasting. This was my first henna, and I was worried that my skin would be too dark for it to even show, but I loved the results. The bread making required only a few ingredients because bedouins needed to ensure that the bread would not spoil in the desert heat. The coffee was strong and flavorful, and we used a date to add some sweetness.
Dinner included lentil soup, salad, several appetizers, two different rices, lamb, bbq chicken, and various dessert options. The tour company made sure no one left hungry, that’s for sure. The available beverages were coffee, tea, and water. For the more adventurous, there was also camel milk. I didn’t try it because it was room temperature and would have preferred it to be cold.
After dinner, we were entertained with cultural Emirati performances from rifle spinners and drummers. Camel rides were available as well, but given my experience with mules in Ecuador a couple of months prior, I decided against it. I sat around observing it all while smoking shisha. At some point, I lied back on the comfortable cushions and looked up at the dark sky. It wasn’t often that I received a chance to just look up at the stars and reflect on life. How did the black girl from rural Louisiana find herself in the middle of the Dubai desert? Were the ancestors proud?