Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dune-bashing in Abu Dhabi

December 9, 2008
ABU DHABI - Our driver and guide, Sultan, steered his 4WD up a steep, 40m-high sand dune then at the peak swung it sharply to the right, defying gravity which threatened to crash the vehicle on its side as it headed downwards.
His six Australian passengers prepared for their doom in different ways - screaming, closing their eyes, wishing they hadn't had a fried breakfast and/or gripping their seatbelts as if on a fairground rollercoaster.
The serene and smiling Sultan kept his cool and his firm grip on the wheel as the 4WD remained upright and slowed as it slid downhill and sideways through the soft surface, churning up clouds of sand until it safely reached the foot of the slope.
It was the first of more than a dozen speed-then-slide experiences, lasting a total of about 45 minutes, and known in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as dune-bashing.
The sport leaves scars only on your nervous system, nothing external.
This was on the first of six days touring booming, oil-rich and tax-free Abu Dhabi.
It's a perpetually sunny land, largest of the seven UAE members located on the south-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula with Abu Dhabi City as the Emirates capital - a 14-hour nonstop flight from Sydney by Etihad Airways.
Sultan drives for the Phoenix Touring and Desert Safari company, the safari commencing with dune-bashing about 85km east of Abu Dhabi City along one of the Emirates excellent freeways of six or eight lanes, largely through desert which occupies more than 70 per cent of the land.
Leaving the highway, we drove into the dunes where Sultan stopped to let some air out of the cars tyres, necessary when driving over soft sand.
Here also we rendezvoused with another company 4WD, provided so we could not only experience the lurching thrills of dune-bashing but also stop and take photographs of the action from a spectators viewpoint.
Sultan gave no precise warning of what we could expect - he just sped off over well-worn tracks into the desert before initiating us into the thrills in the hills.
For the record, the car was a 4.7-litre Toyota Land Cruiser V8, seating the driver and one passenger in front and five others in the two rear seats.
"Ever roll one of these?" we asked Sultan.
"Never," he replied - not even when he was learning to master the tricky manoeuvres of dune-bashing.
We had no real reason to doubt him, although the thought did cross our minds: "There's always a first time."

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United Arab Emirates, Dubai
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