The last thing I expected or hoped for or even dreamed in my Dubai desert safari was the rain. At that time, all I really wanted was taking a cliche photo of a camel walking forlorn in the middle of the vast sands, leaving behind a trail shadowed by the setting sun. Was that too much to ask?
Well, it looked like the heavens did not heed my tiny request as our tour van drove further away from the city. The afternoon drizzle kept on and the drops on our windshield seemed to mock me each passing minute. Coming from a country that sees at least 20 tropical typhoons every year, I muttered to myself that I did not travel this far only to experience rain in the Middle East.
Even our 4×4 SUV bashing the sand dunes did little to cheer me up. It made several stomach-churning moves, which made my sister, her flatmate and another guest, shriek both out of fear and sheer delight. I could only wish that I enjoyed the roller coaster-esque ride as much as they did.
A few minutes later, we alighted by a small camp that looked like a mini-courtyard from a far. On two of its walls are small tables placed on red carpets. A platform is set in the middle and various makeshift booths are scattered in between. There’s one selling shisha, another selling overpriced souvenirs and one offering henna tattoos. And much to my surprise, I approached the latter. “What could be more touristy than having a henna tattoo on my arms?” I thought to myself.
I asked Dua, our henna artist that afternoon, about the rain, and whether they experience it often in Dubai. Sensing the disappointment in my voice, she replied while finishing the scorpion design on my right arm, “You may not like the rain, but for us, we enjoy it so much.”
I thanked her afterwards and walked my way out of the camp. That’s where I chanced upon Najeev, a falcon handler. He explained to me that Pajeem, his 5-year old falcon has already retired after losing a few feathers on its right wing. He then took off the game bird’s leather hood so that I could have a quick look at its still sharp eyes.
Although the sky was still overcast, the rain has already stopped. I scanned the horizon one more time for tell-tale signs of the golden sunset of my dreams. There was none of course. I went back inside as the chilly desert winds began to blow, signaling that nightfall was already upon us.
We would later find out that perhaps because of the unexpected downpour, our buffet dinner and the evening’s entertainment got delayed. It probably helped that at that point, I learned not to expect anything anymore from our tour. That’s how I got to enjoy the remaining hours of my unique desert safari experience.
The evening performances started with a spinning guy, clad in an LED-laced skirt, performing an enthralling Tanoura dance.
It was then capped off by the undulating hip gyrations of a scantily clad belly dancer. I thought that it was a rather scandalous contradiction especially in the UAE, but the locals seemed to allow and even enjoy this final number.
It was almost 9:00 PM when our tour van drove back to the city. I remembered what Dua said awhile ago. Maybe she was right all along, that I should consider myself very fortunate to experience rain in my short vacation in Dubai. It doesn’t rain quite often, even considered rare, in these parts.
I then looked over my shoulder to check Dua’s henna creation. It has already dried up. I untucked and pulled back the right sleeve of my shirt, covering the fleeting artwork on my arm.