Wednesday, January 2

Safari Schlock

Aside from shopping, Dubai’s most popular tourist activity is its Desert Safaris. These have to be one of the most cliché tourist experiences I’ve ever encountered. Against our better judgment, Garry and I booked a safari on our last day in town. The outing involved being folded into the back parcel space in a four-wheel drive sedan and driven over modest sand dunes in of a convoy of more 30 vehicles, followed by an evening of entertainment that lacked any authentic local character.

The dune-bashing itself was a lot of fun. However, the experience lost some of its appeal as caravan after caravan of alternative tour groups and their respective conveys drove by. At one point I counted more than 5o vehicle dotting the landscape. Rather than being left with an impression of man battling nature, we felt like cogs in a large sterile tourist machine. Sadly, worse was to come.

Our dune-bashing was followed by a visit to a camel farm at dusk. The concept could have been a fascinating diversion. However, it consisted of nothing more than the entire convey stopping on the roadside to observe domesticated camels through the mesh of a perimeter fence. No explanation or commentary was offered regarding the farm, its camels, their habits or the industry we were witnessing. In fact we learnt nothing, and saw nothing more than a passing motorist would.

The final stage of our ‘safari’ saw us taken to a Bedouin tent camp for an evening of entertainment. This proved to be the biggest disappointment of the evening. The camp consisted of sturdy, wooden framed thatched huts arranged in a uniform semi-circle around a central concrete dance floor. Not a tent was to be found. Large arena speakers and floodlights ringed the area, pumping out the Arabian equivalent of musak.

As you'd expect a lone belly-dancer appeared mid-evening to deliver a simple routine. She then invited middle-age male tourists to join her in an inevitably clumsy group jostle. Sadly, nothing could have made the evening feel less authentic than a slightly bored dancer dragging giggling men and their wives around a concrete pad. We were left none the wiser about Bedouin life and customs, let alone the techniques of belly dancing. All in all the experience wasn't worth the money and I wouldn't do it again.

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