An Unforgettable Camping Experience
An edited version of this article appeared in Abu Dhabi Week magazine in December 2010. It no longer appears online.
We’ve wanted to go camping in the desert for ages, but we thought it would be too hard with two small children. When Al Badeyah Eyes Tourism promised we’d have an easy time of it, we loaded up our three year old and five year old plus one overnight bag and headed out into the wild to see if those claims could possibly be true.
2:30pm – Our driver met us at Al Raha Beach Mall where we switched the car seats from our vehicle into their minivan and loaded up the one bag we’d brought containing the barest of essentials: warm clothes, one package of apple juice boxes and a handful of cereal bars – the sort of thing we’d take with us for a trip to the grocery store.
3:30pm – About an hour’s drive outside Abu Dhabi, we turned off the highway near Al Khazna on the road towards Al Ain. At our shady enclosed camp site, we found several sturdy tents. Once we’d dropped our bags, we were free to explore the quad bikes, the budgies, the falcons and the bathing facilities. Admittedly there was only one bathtub in each of the men’s and women’s bathrooms but there were plenty of modern toilets which is about as easy as camping gets.
4:30pm – After our kind host Mr. Kamal served us traditional welcoming dates and Arabic coffee in the majlis, we took the short walk down the dune to the animal pens. The kids were just as excited to see the children as our boys were to see them. In addition to the goats, we saw other animals typical to a Bedouin camp like sheep, pigeons, desert rabbits, saluki dogs and miniature spotted turkeys.
5pm – No trip to the desert can be complete without riding a camel so we climbed up onto the sturdy two-man saddles. While vocal and a little unstable getting up, our camels were gentle enough for the children to ride for a few minutes.
Whether you have kids or not, there’s something for everyone to do at this camp; the quad bikes come in three sizes so kids big and small can ride, either on their own or with an adult, and the deadly falcon wowed everyone with his display of one of the most ancient styles of hinting in the world.
5:30pm – In the last of the daylight, we headed into the open desert in 4×4 vehicles provided by Al Badeyah Eyes. The drive through the dunes was in some ways like a roller coaster, but our driver took into account the sizes of the children we had in tow who thought the experience was fantastic. Sunset over desert spectacular.
Back at a dune that rose almost vertically out of the desert, we took our turn at sand surfing. There’s certainly a knack to it – the trick is to keep the weight at the back and lean back, toboggan style, and you should know that climbing back up the dune is harder than it looks. We were glad to be wearing flip flops; it was easier to walk up the soft, dry sand of the dunes in our bare feet than it was in even simple shoes.
6pm – Sitting perched atop a sand dune watching the sun set over the desert was nothing short of spectacular. With the last of the stunning array of pinks and oranges fading in the horizon, our 4x4s returned to take us back to camp just as wind started to pick up.
6:30pm – Back at camp, we lounged on cushions around low tables waiting for the last of the dinner preparations and grateful we hadn’t had to pack and haul our own grill, fuel or food. To get the true desert experience, we dressed up in traditional clothes and took pictures with the authentic historical (dull) knives and (disabled) rifles Al Badeyah Eyes supplied. The boys won the hearts of the Arab ladies who thought they looked quite cute in their khandooras and ghoutras.
7pm – Once dinner was ready, we enjoyed a buffet of mostly traditional fare including hummus, salads, rice, grilled chicken and lamb plus a couple of more kid friendly items – fried fish and chips. Our little ones tucked right into the grilled chicken, rice and bread.
Another typical Bedouin tradition is the application of henna, so after dinner we sat still while the deft Sudanese artist quickly decorated one leg. Being our first henna experience we managed to make a bit of a mess of it but we were pleased with the results nonetheless. The children were especially pleased with the small designs she painted on their forearms.
8pm – Well satisfied, everyone in the camp sat around the fire under a dazing array of stars, drinking cardamom tea with milk – a royal treat. Whether or not this trip is a good idea for your kids depends mostly on your kids. On our stay, we saw infants, toddlers, bigger kids and teens. Everyone got along swimmingly.
After a day of excitement and climbing up the dunes, our boys were bushed. We dipped into the small stash of apple juice boxes we’d brought and after five minutes, our active kids were asking to go to bed.
8:30pm – While this trip was by far the easiest camping we’ve ever done, it was still camping so we got the kids off to sleep in our tent. Our camp beds were not like the ones you’ll find in Emirates Palace, but they were proper framed beds that allowed us to sleep up off the ground on proper linens. Be warned that the mattresses are very firm, which can be great or uncomfortable depending on the state of your back.
9pm – This camp isn’t really designed to see revellers party loudly into the night; once the sun went down, the noisy quad bikes were put away and though some of our fellow campers stayed up for awhile drinking tea and listening to the music they’d brought, everyone was considerate. When we were ready to turn in, we snuggled under the thick warm duvets and fell asleep as quickly as the children had.
8am – If we hadn’t heard the siren song of the toilet, we might have slept till noon. When we finally surrendered to the call of nature, we noticed the howl of dogs in the distance and early morning birds chattering in the trees. Though the morning wasn’t cold, it was certainly brisk and we were glad of the warm clothes and jackets we’d been advised to bring.
8:30am – Up and dressed, we walked across the road opposite the camp and watched the sun rising in the horizon. Our three year old slept like he’s never slept before but our five year old came with us, exploring tiny bird tracks in the sand and revelling in the exquisite joy of squishing sand between his toes. We especially loved the sight of the man on the dune buggy rolling slowly by with four blanketed salukis tethered to the vehicle, out for their morning exercise.
After whispering quietly for an hour, we were surprised to find that most of the other guests hadn’t stayed the night The camp can accommodate 25 overnight guests and up to 250 for a half day excursion, and while weekends are busier, the camp is open any day guests want to book.
9:30am – A simple breakfast of boiled eggs, cereal and toast, we downed tea and coffee and headed off for one last whirl on the quad bikes. The shower was available but since we were heading back early, we decided to wait till we got home. Since we’d only brought one bag for the four of us, packing was a cinch.
10:30am – Back at Al Raha Beach, we moved the car seats back into our vehicle and headed home refreshed and full of appreciation for the glory of the desert and all that we had experienced. The trip was everything Al Badeyah Eyes had promised, and we’re ready to go again.
Want to go desert camping on your next trip to Abu Dhabi? Visit www.abet-uae.com. Keep in mind that this company doesn’t have certain things you might find with other desert safari establishments like sheesha, belly dancers and premium beverages, which makes this camp a great one for people bringing children – try explaining to a 5 year old why the pretty lady is dancing in her sparkly underwear. If you’re really into those things, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to smoke sheesha and see dancers in town, but this trip is all about enjoying the desert. Not up for camping? Al Badeyah Eyes also offers a half day desert safari, a quad bike adventure tour, city tours, a heritage lunch buffet and a dhow cruise with dinner.