UAE Travel Diary: Liwa

liwa, the empty quarter desert, abu dhabi, uae

My dad joined a biker gang. Well, sort of. To clarify he joined an off-roading club. In my opinion, they’re just as hardcore as any biker gang. Probably more so since they have to map their own way in the desert, ride down 40 foot slip faces, and shit in the desert. I’m pretty sure shitting in the desert is more hardcore than a bar fight since there aren’t even shrubs for you to hid behind. You just find yourself a nice sand dune, make like a cat, and hope to God that no one from your group is taking a walk in your direction. I was going to suggest jackets, but apparently they have that covered already. So they’re pretty much a biker gang but with cars.

We started off in Liwa, which is an oasis in the middle of the desert. At some point during my trip here I’ll have to stop saying “middle of the desert” because EVERYWHERE is the middle of the desert. The entire country is desert.

We headed out at 6:15am to see the desert roses. If someone had told me that I’d be out in the desert at such an ungodly hour a year ago, I would’ve kicked them in the shins and run away screaming, “YOU’LL NEVER GET ME ALIVE, SUCKERS.” But the new(ish) me was all about adventures, so I was actually excited. Desert roses aren’t actually roses, or any actual plant at all, since hardly anything grows in the sand with 110 degrees Fahrenheit and sunshine that can fry your morning eggs and bacon. Desert roses are actually sand and mineral formations that form petals (use your imagination, ok?) and that’s where the name comes from. As we were looking around for those, our guide, Marina, had scampered up a 30 foot slipface like a mountain (desert?) goat. We watched as she then sat at the edge and proceeded to slip down on her bum. Dennis videoed the whole thing while narrating it.

desert rose, liwa, abu dhabi, uae

This is a desert rose, friends.

“This is Dennis. It’s 2016 and we’re in Liwa. That’s Marina coming down a 30 foot slipface on her butt. The sound you hear is the sand avalanching. It really sounds like an elephant farting.”

After our desert rose viewing, we went back to the hotel for breakfast and naps before our afternoon dune bashing. That’s when you take your car out into the desert and go up and down sand dunes like they’re nature’s rollercoasters. Except nature gives no shits about safety because you can’t sue nature.

liwa, abu dhabi, dune bashing, UAE

Dune bashing with the gang in the Empty Quarter Desert, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Grandpa Bernie shook his head, “I’m going to need a few drinks before I go anywhere.”

For the record, he and Grandma Eileen aren’t actually my grandparents, but I call them that since they act like they are.

That afternoon, we let the air out of the car tires, did a radio check, and drove out into the desert. Our merry little caravan had four cars: Marina as the Marshal (leader) with me and my family as her passengers; a young couple, Dom and Suzie in the second car; Dennis, Jean, Grandpa Bernie, and Grandma Eileen in the third car; and Tatiana and her daughter Sophie bringing up the rear. I never expected the desert to be so beautiful. Every moment was different, which is how I ended up with an insane amount of pictures of sand dunes. Dune bashing was fun too, right up until Marina decided to open the windows and turn off the AC. To be fair, her engine was starting to overheat.

“There’s a nice breeze out today,” she drawled in her Scottish accent.

Yes, except the breeze is blowing hot air with sand in your face. It’s like Satan farting.

Marina also shared her expertise over the radio to the rest of the caravan, “Plants are a good place to go. It means it’s not soft sand.”

A few minutes later, she piped up again, “Camel poop is another good indicator. Camels know how to find a good route.”

Dennis chimed in over the radio, “Camel shit also gives the tires excellent traction!”

Three hours of adventuring in the desert later, I was exhausted and sweaty. When Dennis parked his car alongside ours so we could all get out and see some lizards, Grandpa Bernie stuck his tongue out and gave me a thumbs down from his window. He then hopped out of the car and glanced at the ground littered with camel crap.

“Anyone want any special dates?”

Towards the end of our trip, we heard Dennis say, “Crested” over the radio. Crested is when the car try to go over the crest of the dune but doesn’t quite make it. You end up with your front tires on one side and the back on the other, with the middle of the car lifted by the crest of the dune. Essentially, your car has been turned into a seesaw. We all parked the cars as Dom pulled a giant elastic belt thing from his trunk and tied it to the bumpers of his car and Dennis’s. We all stood back (“In case the belt snaps,” Marina advised) and watched Dom and Dennis fix the mess. Then everyone piled back into the cars, only to hear Suzie’s voice on the radio.

“We’re stuck.”

liwa, abu dhabi, UAE, empty quarter desert

That’s Dennis’s car crested, and Dom trying to winch him out.

So there was digging and pushing and Dom’s car got unstuck. God bless that camel crap for the added traction. Half the party was probably wondering if we were ever going to make it out of the desert.

“That’s it. We’re never getting home. We’re never getting out of this desert. This is how we die. Why? There are perfectly nice asphalt roads,” my mom said, her voice rising several octaves.

Grandpa Bernie blew a raspberry at us from his window. (I’ve pretty much adopted him and Grandma Eileen as my own. Can you tell I love him like my own grandpa already? Probably more, but don’t tell.)

We did make it out of the desert. Covered in sweat and a layer of sand, but alive at least. I’m 90% sure that I’m never getting rid of all this sand. It’s like glitter; you’ll die with it still on you. (I’m in a sorority, I know what I’m talking about here. Glitter is forever, like sparkly herpes but you know, not as bad.) As I’m writing it, I’ve already taken three shower and a dip in the pool and I’m still finding sand in my hair.

We headed out the next day too for more dune bashing, but it was less exciting. Unless you count Grandpa Bernie trying to bribe some camels we met with food. He didn’t actually have food, but that sure didn’t stop him. He took off his hat and stuck it out to the camels and called out, “TASTY CAMEL TREATS! COME AND GET THEM!” Yes, Grandpa Bernie was trying to con the camels. It almost worked, but then they turned to the side and ran off to peak at us from behind another dune.

“LOSERS!” yelled Grandpa Bernie. Turning to me he said, “You know, the desert is great, but I think I could use a drink and a nap right about now.”

Same, Grandpa Bernie, same.

liwa, abu dhabi, UAE, empty quarter desert

Grandpa Bernie trying to con the camels.

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  • LeighAnn Searle

    Wow! This looks amazing! I want to go! haha!

  • OnceUponADollhouse

    What an amazing adventure. Loving your photographs, they don’t even look real.


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