Tag Archives: Desert

I did it! I rode a camel!

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While we were at Bab Al Shams resort, one of the activities available there was the opportunity to ride a camel – oh my goodness, I was eager and I was nervous and I was excited and I was happy.  OK, so…..  here we go.

After we’d had a bite at one of the Bab Al Shams’ restaurants, we walked around a bit exploring, looking at all that the resort had to offer…. Archery, horseback riding, miniature golf, swimming pools that were to die for gorgeous.  Honestly,  some were the “infinity” pools that just looked like they kept going on and on into the desert, some had big water features in them, some were shallow for the kiddies, and some swam right up to the bars.

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Lots of neat shady places to sit and just enjoy the peacefulness of the place, to actually relax and begin to people-watch.  Until I noticed, just past the pools, on the other side of a small ridge, where the resort meets the desert….

CAMELS.  More importantly, PEOPLE and CAMELS.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I pointed it out to TBG and he said “I suppose that’s where we’re headed, right?”.   Silly man.

I walked over the edge of the property, and down the little rise, and there were two camels, with the saddle-things already on them, with ropes, and a few people around them taking pictures.  I stood there for a few minutes, just sort of soaking in the idea that there was the desert, and here were the camels, and here I was.  Goosebumps.

A young woman was standing close to one of the camels, and I realized that she was about to go on a camel ride – I was watching closely.  The camel was kneeling down in the sand with his feet all scrunched up under him about as flat as I suppose a camel can get.

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Still, that hump-back was pretty high up there, I was wondering how she was gonna do it.  Well, you climb.  Just throw your leg up there as high as you can get it, grab the saddle handle thing, and pull/push yourself up.  Definitely not for the less-than-agile.  I was thinking it was gonna take a crane to get me up there and my mouth started feeling a little bit dry……..

Then, the camel started to stand up.  Hind legs first.  REALLY awkward looking, and rough from the expression on the woman’s face as she leaned really far backwards.  Then he got to his front knees.  (Do camels *have* back knees??)  The woman was rocking forwards now, and looked like she was juuuuust about to fall off!  Then, it all sort of leveled out and I thought “she did it!”.  And the handler took off with her.

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Nearby, I noticed an Asian woman was desperately trying to take a photo of her oh-so-cutely dressed little daughter petting a camel, and that little girl was having no part of it.  She was intrigued, but scared.  I remembered a trick that one of the Disney character handlers taught me about how to get a great shot of a scared child with a character….thought I’d try it.

I walked up to the camel, behind the little girl, and started petting it.  She turned around, looked at me, I smiled and said “he’s really nice to pet, would you like to touch him??”  She turned around and looked at her mother, who said “it’s OK!”  And the little girl moved in closer, put out her hand close to mine and touched his fur.  At that time, she started to turn back around and look at her mother giggling, I moved out of the photo, and her mother got a perfect photo of just her daughter touching a camel!  The look of surprise and triumph on that little girl’s face was priceless.

The gent handling one of the camels looked at me and asked “Would you care to ride?”  Oh boy – this is my moment of truth – nerves or courage????

“Sure!”  And he gestured for me to get on the camel.  I had to throw my leg up around shoulder-high to get it over the top of the camel and saddle and pulled/pushed myself on… definitely not one of my more graceful moments.  Thank goodness TBG didn’t get a photo.  And then….. his hind legs went up!  Oh my!!

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I swear I was leaning back as far as I thought I could without falling off.  When my Mama saw this photo, she said “Looked a little bit white-knuckled there, weren’t you, girl?”  Boy, was I!  And, the gent handling the camel was making clicking noises at the camel and pulling on the rope, trying to get it to continue standing up.  Of course it was being stubborn, and here we were…. Half-way up.

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Suddenly, up on its knees!  Now I’m leaning waaaaay forward, hoping to not topple off over the neck of this big critter, hanging on for dear life.  Wow, that other gal’s experience sure looked a whole lot smoother, easier and faster than this!  Oh well, it’s not so bad.

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Then, I realized something.  We weren’t STANDING yet.  How did I realize this?  There was this sudden lurching, this weird, awkward staggering kind of upward movement, and then suddenly, we were moving out towards the desert – away from the resort.  The camel was being led by the handler, I was hanging on for dear life thinking calming thoughts “People have done this before.  Probably small children.  Grab the experience”.   Don’t I look all calm and cool and collected there??  Sheesh.

OK, panicky feelings are over, we’re on a camel, headed out into the desert for a walkabout, and I realize that the handler is speaking.  Something about did I want to know more about the camel?  I said “Certainly!”  in my best non-squeaky-nervous voice.  It was about 10 years old and can walk for miles and miles and miles is about all I can remember, because I’d realized something. I was pretty much doing the “splits” on top of this critter.  It was wide, really wide.  And not well-padded.  So to distract myself and continue on this rolling-gaited trip, I asked the handler if he enjoyed working with camels?  He smiled a crooked smile and said “Yes, Madame, they are very gentle creatures”.  I asked if he’d been here in Dubai long and he answered a year and a half.  I asked if he had family here, he snapped his head around and looked at me with almost a piercing look, and said “No Madame, no family here, they are all back in Egypt”.

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As I was digesting this information, we began the turn to make a journey back to the resort.  I thought we’d been gone about an hour…. It was no where close to that.  But it was surely long enough for me to realize that I’d probably want one of those nice comfy saddle things like on horses….. with stirrups and a seat.

Now, headed back, I’m feeling all confident like I’m some expert camel-rider or something… I even reached down (loosening my death-grip hold on that handle thing) to actually *pet* that camel.  Don’t I look relaxed and like I’m not sitting on one of the tallest mammals on the planet??  Sitting on something higher than TBG’s head??

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This was TBG’s chuckle for the day, I’m sure….. I was thinking “what the heck??” when I found it on my camera,  but then, he has a truly warped sense of humor, you know…… go ahead and roll your eyes in advance……

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I’m glad I got the opportunity to practice my camel-riding skills though.  Just in case I ever find myself in the midst of making a camel caravan journey, you know.  Hey, it could happen!

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Anniversary Celebration at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort

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Bab Al Shams (Arabic translation = “gateway to the sun”) is a true desert resort and spa.  Styled in a typical Arabic village/fort/oasis fashion, it was all snugged down in the desert dunes, just waiting for us to discover it.  Now it’s only about 45 minutes from Dubai, so it’s not a stretch to just go and spend a night or two there,  but it’s far enough away that you truly feel removed from the craziness that is Dubai.
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I’d seen the street signs for this resort, and noticed it popping up on my internet searches, but hadn’t thought seriously about this five-star beauty as a destination, simply because of the cost.  I mentioned it to TBG in passing one day and he said “Yeah, all the guys at work say to go spend a night there, it’s worth every penny – you wanna go??”  Ha!  I was already making reservations.
Our anniversary was coming up, so I justified the cost of the room for one night (around USD$430) with the fact that the resort offered so much in the way of amenities and experiences – plus, free breakfast in the morning.  Booked the room, then TBG said “don’t forget that special Arabian Buffet thing they’ve got – sposta be something special”.  Hmmm….. searching for “special Arabian Buffet thing” finally brought up the Al Hadheerah Arabian Buffet – but at a whopping AED425 per person…. Yikes.  That translated to over $150USD each!  Crazy.  Not happening crazy.
But wait – we have the Entertainer book – it has a voucher in it for “buy one get one free” Al Hadheerah buffets – so swallowing hard and quickly, I booked it, feeling quite extravagant, and not in a really good way, you know?  Like in a “what the heck are you spending this kind of money on a single meal” kind of extravagant.  But it kept bubbling up in my brain ….“once in a lifetime – file this experience away”.   Outdoor setting, incredible entertainment, buffet with more foods than I’ll ever know their names.

The day finally came, and the drive there was quick and easy with lovely desertscapes.  It’s kind of odd to call the desert lovely, but it really has this amazing beauty once you start looking past the bleakness.  As we approached the resort, there were riders on horseback – there was a desert endurance race (http://www.emirates247.com/sports/other/sheikh-mohammed-endurance-cup-on-saturday-2013-01-17-1.491425) going on – my photos aren’t the best, but they were waving at us, and then rode on their way, not wanting to lose any time.

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The one thing that struck me was the quietness, the sense of serenity we encountered, from the gentleman that asked us to “lift the boot, pleasesir” to the one who said “your bags will arrive shortly in your room”.  When we approached the check-in area, a gent offered us small cups of hot tea as a traditional desert welcome.  The reception area was lovely – well-appointed and understated.  There was an odd-shaped metal sculpture propped up in a corner, and when I asked what it was, a gent said “madame, it is a camel saddle frame.  Many blankets will make it more comfortable for both camel and rider.”  Interesting, isn’t it??
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One thing I noticed while walking to our room (a “special anniversary location” on the ground floor, far  end, corner with an unrestricted desert view for miles and miles) was the absence of noise.  All we heard was either wind or water, that’s all.  I loved that.  And the view!  Here are some shots of the view and our room…….

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We did some exploring, took a brazillion photos, wandered into a couple places that we likely weren’t sposta be in, but got some great photos.  There are many levels and little nooks and crannies in this resort – just gotta be willing to wander around and find them.  Oh, and there were refreshments.  <smile>
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It had been a long time since breakfast, and we were feeling just a bit hungry.  So, we found a little place for a bite to eat.  And, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  We took the opportunity to take some photos of each other in the late afternoon light, too….just messing around.

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We didn’t want much, since we knew we’d be feasting for supper.  A shared Arabian Appetizer plate sounded just right.
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Gorgeous, wasn’t it??  Hummus, babaganoush, falafel, and some other things I forget what they were, pretty tasty bites, though.  When we left that small restaurant, there were some pretty amazing adventures awaiting us – I’ll tell you about them next post.  😉

So, early that evening, we readied ourselves for the Arabian Buffet at the Al Hadheerah camp – I wasn’t quite certain what to expect, but knew it was outdoor dining, so I made sure to wear long sleeves and take a wrap.  A large golf cart limousine picked us up at the front door to drive us to the camp.  We enjoyed the low-level lighting, the desert sky and the excited chatter of our fellow riders.  Upon arriving at the camp, it was actually made to look as if it were an Arabian Camp – carpets over the sand for more comfortable footing, small kiosk tents set up with art work and clothing and other interesting bits in them, but beyond the short walkway of tents, around the corner were these incredible smells…. Oh my.

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There was roasting, and frying, and grilling, and baking and carving and slicing all happening at the same time, and with some of the most full, rich aromas you can imagine.  Suddenly, I  realized that my share of that little appetizer plate was *gone* and I was hungry!

We were a couple people back in line in the reception area, and I was looking around and realized that my mouth was watering at the smells!  To our right, there was a huge (5’ wide x 3’ deep) grill just *filled* with small fowl, maybe chickens, maybe not, with kebabs of who-knows-what sort of tasty bits, and something roasting over a spit – maybe a small lamb??

We were shown to some table choices, and we chose one about 4 tables from the stage, thinking we’d have an excellent vantage point for the Iranian Dancers and the Belly Dancers.  Our server arrived to take our drink orders and then… oh my.  The food began arriving!  Bowls and bowls of strange wonderfulness – they were called “salads” but were nothing like the salads we were used to.  Pickled bits of vegetables, olives in multiple shapes, colors, and flavors, and an interesting green used here called “rocket” – sort of reminds me of dandelion greens, slightly bitter if they’re large, but less so if they’re smaller.  There was hummus, and babaganoush and labneh with breads aplenty for dipping.
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All that would have been a feast in itself.  But remember that grill I told you about?  It was only one of many.  I even saw an underground oven that will roast a goat, or a small sheep intact!  There was a pulley-system to raise and lower both the heavy lid and the critter into and out of the pit.  Pretty cool.

There were seafood sections,  kabob sections, shawarma sections, sweets, desserts, a monstrous selection of dates, and a ton of stuff I’d never seen before.  Ever.  I was asking “so, what is this?”  a lot, but the servers were rushed, and their accents were so heavy it was difficult for my western ears to pick out the words.  But the food was awesome – TBG discovered that he truly loves pickled turnips – imagine that!

An interesting bit told to me by one of the shawarma guys, these skewer things are loaded from the top with yogurt-lime marinated meats…. And roasted vertically, allowing all the juices to run down.  The meat is served from the bottom of the skewer, sliced off fresh for each diner.  And, all the juices and yummy marinade goodness has dripped down onto your meat….. and the skewer keeps getting reloaded from the top, repeating the process.  Pretty cool.  I hope we have a photo of it, if not, I’ll find one and add it here.

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As our meal wound down and the trips to the various buffet areas started slowing, a gent began playing the oud – this is a traditional middle eastern instrument similar to a guitar – a very distinctive and enjoyable sound.  We realized it was also loud.  Really loud.  We’d chosen a table that was WAY too close to the speakers, and wished we’d made a different choice.  However, we did get a few photos of the Iranian Dancer as well as the Belly Dancer – fun stuff to watch!

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As the entertainment ended, we went back to our lovely room, and prepared for a great night’s sleep, having enjoyed ourselves a LOT.  There was a beautiful anniversary cake, box of chocolates, box of stuffed dates and a gorgeous fruit bowl left in our room by the Resort.  Such a wonderful gesture on their part – and a perfect bite of dessert!
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Looking out the windows, the scene was lovely under the moon and starlight.  Time for sleep.  Sadly, the mattress there was typical of all that we’ve found here – hard as a freekin rock.  Seriously.  Really hard.  Like painful.   OK, enough about the mattress, but it was really the only aggravation we experienced, and we were surprised.

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The resort itself it quite lovely – calm and peaceful.  A wonderful escape from the day-to-day stresses we all live with.  For us, this was a very very special anniversary splurge, one we’ll remember for a very long time.