112. Desert

Being a cross breed of English and Irish I have a particular penchant for greenery.  I love it and I miss it.  I miss looking out of my old bedroom window at the oak trees, or going up to the Epsom Downs to practice my handbrake turns in my old Escort.  I miss the simple pleasure of a tree in the sunlight, or having a back garden in which to shoot squirrels with an air rifle.  I was in Ireland this summer with my fiancé and the green surroundings over there are even more breathtaking than they are around the Costa del Thames.  It’s the simple things in life that we miss over here.  The green rolling hills, the trees, the ambience of tweeting birds and so on, it’s all so tranquil and harmless.

Of course the UAE has its own natural surrounding beauty; the desert.  It’s tens of thousands of square miles of barren, featureless terrain with each dune as similar as the one next to it.  What a hopeless, desolate place it is.  It may sound a bit funny coming from a British tax exile who has openly opted to come and live in the desert, but truth be told, I’m not a fan.  Nothing about the desert is hospitable, every conceivable aspect of it is life threatening.

Let’s start with the facts; the desert is everywhere, from surrounding your town to in your corn flakes in the morning, there is no escape from the relentless sand.  Access to the desert is simple, you simply pull off the road…and that’s it.  You’re in it.  But you can’t just veer off the road in your Kia Sportage and hope for the best, no.  In order to go desert trekking properly you need some local knowledge, such as what time to go.  The shammal (winds) usually pick up at a certain time and if you’re out there having a beer when a sandstorm strikes you’re finished.  You need to know where the dunes are, or where they were, because they won’t be in the same place as they were when you thought they were somewhere else…

The iPad may save you from boredom, but it can't save you from the desert

The iPad may save you from boredom, but it can’t save you from the desert

You also need about as much equipment with you as you would if you were to embark upon a trek to the North Pole.  You need a spare fuel can, which is recommended to be full of fuel.  You need a crate of water and salts in case you get thirsty or are feeling a touch dehydrated.  You need an iPad for entertainment.  You also need a spade, for either burying whoever you have accidentally killed to death or for digging yourself out of the sand if you have been driving like a pillock and gotten stuck.  You will need a compressor to inflate your tyres when you’re done since you have to let most of the air out in order to survive the torment at the beginning of the proceedings.

Most curiously, you also need a long wave radio that can contact help should you need any.  I find this weird, surely mobile phones work out there, they work everywhere these days.  But really, what do you tell Desert Rescue?  “Help, I’m stuck in the desert” you say.  “Whereabouts my good man?” would be the response.  “Well, I’m near the sand dune that looks like a sand dune.”

The bottom line is, if you have gone in there far enough and something goes wrong, like you roll your stupid Land Cruiser or you breakdown, then you’re going to die.  What can you do?  Walk for help?  Hitchhike?  Send up a flare which you most definitely will have forgotten to pack?  No, you’ll put your warning triangle up, kill your friend, eat the salt tablets and wait in hope for another bozo to get lost with you.

Then, once you’ve buried your friend and eaten your iPad you will have to contend with the wildlife.  There is nothing in the desert that is even remotely friendly.  If you find one of those weird mouse/bird things then you’ve done well, otherwise all you will have for company is scorpions, snakes and spiders of such size that you will have wished your friend killed you rather than the other way around.

No, much like the Amazon rainforest, all the inhabitants of the desert are there to kill you in the most horrific of ways.  To come face to face with anything that is not a camel or the aforementioned mouse/bird thing will likely give you a massive coronary.  Such an end would be preferable to what happens if a little black scorpion gets you…

If by the grace of God you last the night with at least three of your limbs then what?  Morning is here and you are still stuck by your Land Cruiser, you’ve drunk all the petrol, Desert Rescue (if such a thing exists) is looking under the wrong sand dune 1000 miles away and you also forgot to pack your cyanide capsule.

The amount of young boys and girls who get stuck out in the desert is staggeringly high.  I find it remarkable that a 17 year old child is allowed to drive a 4.7 litre V8 Toyota Land Cruiser when even a British skilled professional couldn’t afford such a thing.  Children that age can’t handle the power, nor are they experienced at anything, apart from shouting and Call of Duty.  Give them the keys to a 4×4 and show them the way to the desert and you are going to have a problem.

This is why for the first few years that we can drive in Britain we can only afford clapped out bangers from the 80’s and 90’s.  You wouldn’t dare take a Mark IV Escort into the desert, nor would you attempt such a thing in a Datsun Cherry or Citroen Saxo, you’d scuff your Max Power body-kit and lose your Porsche Engineering sticker.  No, you can harp on about the deserts beauty and grandeur until you’re blue in the face; it’s a vicious, hostile, unforgiving monster that when mixed with the young and the ill-educated will try to kill you.  Can you imagine the Epsom Downs trying to kill you?  “Oh no a pigeon.  Oh no a fox.  Oh no, damp grass.  Call Dad and ask for the tow rope.”  Give me the Surrey Downs or County Wicklow any day of the week.

Of course, if you turn off after the 72km marker Al Ain bound on the way from Abu Dhabi there is a nice little bit, especially at sunrise, which makes you realise that it does have its moments.  It’s some light relief in a horror film, like that part in Jaws when the boy is playing in the sea, just before he’s eaten.

But beware of the camels; they come across as friendly at first but let your guard down for a second and one of those bastards will try to nick your fiancé…

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