Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, there are not a lot of other “overlanders” in the UAE. There are many people who own 4x4s in UAE, and lots of people go driving in the desert on a regular basis, but the number of other traveller types seems to be low.
I have no idea how I first came across the Desert Diva. That detail will forever be lost. But within a few weeks of arriving in Abu Dhabi I did stumble across her blog, and within a short space of time, we were chatting fairly regularly online. Hailing from Scotland, she has lived in UAE since 2009 and is highly respected in the off-road desert scene.
We kept threatening to meet up. First we needed to acquire a decent 4×4, and Desert Diva was a fount of valuable local information. By the time we had a vehicle, it was Summer in the UAE. Too hot for any sensible overlanding.
Then time passed. More time passed. And then 2014 was done.
I was absolutely delighted when Desert Diva dropped me a note earlier in the week to invite us to join her and some friends for a little drive into the desert and some camping. Finally!!!
We were given a waypoint to meet up at on Friday lunchtime not far from Al Ain, almost 2 hours from Abu Dhabi. Her friends included a couple from Canada who have lived in UAE for 10 years, and a British couple who brought along the parents (visiting from the UK) to experience the desert.
First instruction – deflate the tyres! Oh boy. This was serious. We set off into the desert on some used tracks.Like other parts of UAE that we have visited on our own, there seem to be an abundance of tracks leading to camelfarms. About 5km from the nearest tar road we stopped – this was our campsite for the night. We were instructed to erect our tents and remove any loose items from the car. While I am aware of the dangers of flying objects in vehicles, I had a slightly nervous apprehension about what exactly we were getting ourselves into!
Our Canadian Campers were not planning on joining us for any desert driving, preferring to relax at the campsite. British Contingent split between a short desert drive with us, while the rest set off to fetch the off-road camper trailer.
Our first hour of proper desert driving was a slight shock to the system for me. As you can imagine – knowing Viking Explorer as you do – the Viking was delighted as we followed Desert Diva into the desert. Very quickly Viking Explorer was taught the basics of dune driving – which included getting well and truly stuck in a little sandbowl that was precisely LandCruiser size! Fortunately, Desert Diva’s winch came in handy, and the vehicle and driver were towed to safety. I fulfilled the vital role of Sideline Heckler and Official Photographer.
Having relocated the camping trailer, the British Contingent joined us to venture even further into the desert. The dunes grew larger, and the Viking’s smile seemed to match in size. It was truly fascinating driving. I was reminded so much of our experience of driving at the off-road club in Val d’Isere in the French Alps. Not that the driving was similar (not really), but the ability to test the vehicle and driver, see how they respond all in the comfort of a knowledgeable person is invaluable. We got stuck again. I recorded it all for prosperity again. And we continued.
After another 2 hours of exploring, over and around the dunes, past a few camel, sheep and goat farms, I was feeling exhausted. I wasn’t even driving, but the emotions were still running high. Desert Diva, being used to working with newbies, also recognised a little overwhelm setting in.
Desert Diva has plans to take us into Liwa – the area of Big Dunes south(ish) of Abu Dhabi towards the Saudi Arabian border. Of course we are keen … but more desert driving skills required.
Do check out Desert Diva’s website: http://thedesertdiva.com/