The desert can provide a great backdrop for adventure, but it can be a dangerous place if you’re not careful. Time Out shares its desert essentials
Time Out Dubai staff
Come join our convoy Never head out into the desert alone – always travel in groups of at least two. But, when driving in convoys, be sure not to drive too close to the car in front.
Sticking it out in a sandstorm Stay in your car, but crack the window open if you’re keeping the engine running, experts say. This is in case the car becomes buried and the exhaust blocked. Some people sleep underneath their cars, but we were advised to simply stay inside. If you are trekking and there is a sandstorm, it’s a good idea to find some shade, mark your direction of travel and wait it out.
Fire starter You can look for old dried driftwood, but you have to look out for dangerous insects. Also, only collect dry wood because green wood isn’t going to burn (plus, by trying to burn this, it’s destroying what little plant life the land has to offer). Bring matches or a lighter, and paper to light it with; but if it’s just for cooking, a camping stove is far more environmentally friendly and less hassle.
Man vs beast It may be obvious, but the best thing to do is avoid them. Try citronella, a plant extract that wards off mosquitoes and some of the more determined creepy crawlies. Also, avoid sleeping al fresco and always keep your shoes in your tent. Never leave them uncovered or outside – the heat and moisture of a sweaty boot invites unwanted visitors. It’s worth covering the tops of your boots with your socks anyway, just in case. ‘The only UAE hospital with a decent selection of anti-venom is Rashid hospital, in Dubai,’ warns Christophe Chellapermal of Discover Nomad, so prevention is better than cure.
Happily hydrated It’s safe to say that around five litres of water per person, per day, is enough to take with you. Chances are you won’t drink anywhere near as much, but it’s always a good precaution to take much more than you think you’ll need. Of course, depending on the kind of trip your taking, it may be difficult to carry this amount. For longer treks, factor in areas like oases and mapped watering holes to replenish your amount.
Desert threads ‘Obviously, this depends on the environment and weather,’ says Paul Oliver from Absolute Adventure. ‘Fast-drying synthetic materials are cool and whip moisture away from the body. Ideal footwear would be trekking shoes. They are lighter than boots and breathe easier. This is handy because when feet get too hot they are more likely to blister.’
The right stuff We consulted a number of the UAE’s top guides to find out what their desert essentials were. GPS navigating systems came top, with a good-old fashioned compass following closely behind. First aid gear, a satellite telephone and Panadol also ranked high. Of course, highfactor sun cream and a hat to protect against heat stress are also invaluable.
Phone a friend You can usually get mobile reception in the desert on top of the larger dunes, but it can be more difficult in rockier areas. For peace of mind, a satellite phone is invaluable – try Abu Dhabi-based Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company. Satellite phones allow you to call for help anywhere in the UAE, no matter how remote. For more information, check out www.thuraya.com.
Damage limitation Choose a spot for your fire that has been used for a similar purpose in the past and ensure the flames don’t get out of control by surrounding it with stones.
Sandboarding Once you’re sure you can survive the desert, you can start having a bit of fun. Similar in principle to snowboarding, sandboarding differs in two key ways: a) it’s on sand and therefore slower to build up speed; and b) out on the dunes there are unlikely to be any ski lifts, meaning it’s a hot and sweaty trudge to the crest. Since this country is swathed in desert, it makes sense to have a go at this zany sport, which can be lots of fun, particularly if it ends up in a tense board-off competition between a bunch of spirited mates.
The basic idea is to find the biggest dune possible (to make the trudge worthwhile). The mammoth dunes at Liwa, in the Rub’ al Khali desert, and at Big Red, near Hatta, are perfect for testing out sandboarding, but it’s better to take it easy until you learn the right technique. To avoid catastrophic wipe outs, try to go with a local tour company – all the major ones arrange tours and give basic instruction on how to stay up, surf and, most usefully, fall over properly. If you want to buy your own board, they’re on sale at various sporting outlets throughout the UAE.