Time Out puts its foot down for four-wheel-drive fun – but not before taking a few tips from off-road oracle Dariush Zandi.
What’s the best way to explore this country?
Well it’s great to drive, but I always try to combine walking with driving. You want to go closer when you’re exploring. That’s why it’s a good idea to take a bike with you, it slows you down and improves your proximity and contact with nature. The best is to drive, to stop, to camp, spend the night – you feel the place; you feel the air in the mountains. And then that silence of the night. Getting up the next morning and not knowing where you are, you have separated yourself from the urban world. I always recommend a drive with a stop over.
Do you always drive with the window down?
As soon as I get off the road, the air conditioning is off and my windows come down. You start acclimatising yourself with the environment and you start to experience it.
How did you start exploring this country?
It was in the early ’80s and I was using old maps. I would just look for a patch of green and head there. I had no GPS and would just get lost. There’s no better way of learning than getting lost. Even though I always recommend you go with more than one person and more than one car, to really become a seasoned traveller you have to get lost. I had some extreme experiences back in those days. [There were the] bandits – I’d probably stepped through their territory and I had to run for it on more than one occasion. There was a time I lost three tyres, and I had to run on the rims and managed to get back to civilisation. When I told the villagers where I had been they said, ‘Wow, even we don’t go up there.’
What’s the one thing you never go off-roading without?
Common sense. A lot of times you just have to trust that and do what you think is right. I’m a man of gadgets but, really, more than all of that, you need to trust your senses and have enough experience to trust yourself.
If you do decide to go without a guide on the UAE’s off-road routes, give your car a thorough check before leaving, or take it to a garage and let them do it for you if you’re not mechanically confident. Bring a tool kit loaded up with tyre tools, screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, as well as extra motor oil and water. Also, jumper cables, spare fuses, and, if possible, extra fan belts and radiator hoses are advisable. Most importantly, bring a towrope and a sturdy shovel for digging out your vehicle if it gets stuck.
What to do if you get stuck
The wider the tyre, the greater the traction on sand; this is what gives 4x4s their power. So the first thing to do when your vehicle gets stuck is to let some air out of its tyres and increase their grip. In fact, it’s worth bringing a small compressor for just such a purpose. Then dig around the tyres to allow you to wedge a plank of wood or a plastic sand mat underneath them for traction. Now drive!