Tuesday, December 20, 2005

In the land of Syriana doing the the Touristy thing

Just got back from a desert safari that I felt almost compelled to go on as I was so damn bored towards the end of my stay in Dubai. It was interesting, amusing and damn cheap to say the least! Our driver and guide, Jasim came around to my place at 3pm just like the company said he would the day before when I booked the tour.

In Jasim's Landcruiser I met Amanda and her mom from London and we went to pick up 2 more passengers at DragonMart, a huge series of warehouse-looking buildings arranged in the shape of a Chinese dragon when viewed from the air. You’ll find just about everything Chinese at DragonMart and our last 2 passengers were no exception!

We waited for them outside the complex for what seemed like half an hour and Jasim was getting restless as we only had about 3 more hours of daylight left. When they finally did show up they could barely speak a word of English – not surprising as many of the people who work at DragonMart are ‘fresh-off-the-boat’ Chinese – so they stayed quiet for pretty much the whole time and kept smiling a lot as you do when you don’t know any other line of communication.

Whilst en-route to the dunes I did ask them what their names were and they politely asked me if I wanted the Chinese version or the English version, I knew I’d never be able to remember the former so they said ‘call us Jefferson and Lawrence’, not in so many words of course!

Once at the dunes we stopped briefly to deflate the tyres to spread the weight of the car on the fine sand so we don’t sink. The dune-bashing itself was to put it plainly KICKASS! Rollercoasters don’t even come close to it simply because they’re a little too predictable, but with dune-bashing and other extreme pleasures in life you just don’t know whether or not you’re going to tip over or get stuck. We did, however get stuck in between two dunes and Jasim’s brother who was in one of the other Landcruisers bailed us out.

I should be getting some kind of royalty for this pic shouldn't I?

We stopped at the top of one of the bigger dunes to take in the view of the miles and miles of auburn sand around us and then we messed around with some old snowboards and did a little sandboarding down the side of the dune before we meandered our way down to the camp.

On a side note: Readers may be interested to know that most parts of the new George Clooney Political thriller Syriana were filmed right out here on the outskirts of Dubai city and the desert. After watching the film I recognized the buildings in the marina area and it just seemed so damn surreal to be out here.

About the film well, I think by now most people know what my current tastes in films are so you’ll also know that this film is totally highly rated by yours truly! And the fact the George Clooney is the executive producer of the film which definitely puts him in my very short list of favourite Hollywood actors who have any kind of moral credibility.

Bottom line…go support this film (preferably by watching it!) and its creators because they work for a Film house called Participant Productions which is (hopefully) working to promote towards noble causes around the world! For a quick run down of my favourite films of probably all-time – even though they all seem to have come out in 2005, are and in no particular order:

The Constant Gardener
Lord of War
and Syriana

Back to the desert safari…

At the camp some people chose to go for a rather subdued camel ride whilst some others went on the quads for a bit of dune-bashing of their own. Suffice to say I shelled out the 50 Dirhams (friggin expensive if you ask me) for the 15 minutes of amateur petrol-powered 4-wheel action. Word of advice when riding on dunes with a motorized vehicle: Scout the ridge of the dune you want to jump off of or go over before actually doing so, and NEVER HESITATE when you’re at the edge. I, however found this out the hard way and got bucked off my quad.

After all that crazy tourist activity we sat down at camp for some shisha, dinner and some belly-dancing by a very pasty looking Eastern-European lady (so much for authenticity eh?).

(belly dancing with an obviously inept and uncomfortable-looking German tourist)

I didn’t let my investigative (some might call it being nosy) instincts go by the wayside just because I was enjoying myself, I got to know some of the people working at the camp who were answering to our every whim thus making it a memorable day for us tourists. I found out that most of them were from Bangladesh and the Indian subcontinent (surprise, surprise). I asked them about their life out here in the middle of nowhere and I found myself enthralled in their stories of the day-to-day hardships they face.

They seem to live on a salary of about 400 Dhs a month, that’s £30 or $55 - I spent half of that on the whole safari!, and they’ve got to sleep rough in the flimsy sheltered areas of the camp site come rain or shine. Venturing outside of the camp area to, say the city is not prohibited but with the amount that these guys are paid its financially impossible, that coupled with the fact that roughly half of what they earn usually gets sent back home to help their families build a proper house or put their siblings through school.

Here’s the result of the least I could do ‘for’ them:

That’s right, I could only take a photo with them to give them the recognition they deserve lest I should forget the hardships people go through for the comfort of others. I had nothing to offer them but words of comfort and understanding and yet I wish I could give them something of tangible benefit.

I could go on about all this for another few web pages but I’ll spare you the unnecessary heartache you may feel for people you don’t even know and hence who hold no particular significance.

This’ll have to be my last entry before jetting off Eastwards to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Once I’m there and if I get a decent Internet connection I’ll put my introductory entry with interesting facts about the country.

And finally I leave you with this, a breathtakingly beautiful desert sunset…

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