If you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show that shows cars or motorcycles or dune buggies kicking up sand everywhere in the middle of some desert, it’s not a camera trick. I know because I had the amazing opportunity to go on a “dune bashing” adventure in an SUV in the middle of the Emirati desert outside Dubai. Afterwards, I got to ride a camel and take part in Bedouin traditions at a desert camp, and it was just incredible. You will need some upper body strength and stability, and a manual wheelchair is HIGHLY recommended, as you and the chair will need to be carried very short distances. But if the experience is more important to you than the logistics, read on to learn how you can go on a wheelchair accessible desert safari in Dubai.
My friends Tom and Rebecca, my hosts in Dubai during my trip in February 2016, saved this safari for the last day of my stay. The three of us slept in, and we got picked up by Orient Tours at 2pm for the one-hour drive to the staging area. Tom was able to help me get into the front seat of the SUV we would be in for the day, and the driver placed my folding wheelchair in the trunk. We were the first SUV to arrive, but soon we were joined by a dozen other Toyota Land Cruisers. We took a couple of pictures and chatted since it was going to take several minutes for the drivers let enough air out of their tires (from about 35 psi to 15 psi) for the dune bashing portion of our tour.
Finally, it was time to go! Earlier that morning, Tom asked me if I liked roller coasters, to which I replied no because I don’t like the feeling of my stomach dropping. That generally doesn’t happen in a car, so I wasn’t sure why he was asking. I only needed five minutes of the dune bashing to understand why he was asking. Imagine a big group of dune buggies riding up and over sand dunes along a beach somewhere. Then make those dune buggies big Toyota SUVs and triple the size of the dunes. We went up and down very steep slopes, slid/drifted sideways at a slant while kicking up massive amounts of sand. We were also driving at a pretty good clip (by request). It was such a huge adrenaline rush! But I will say, dune bashing isn’t for the faint of heart; if you get the slightest bit car sick, you had better pop some Dramamine before hand. We were twisting and turning and rising and dropping almost non-stop for 45 minutes!
At the end of the ride, all the cars went to a high dune so everyone could take pictures. I assumed I would stay in the car since going up a sand dune isn’t really in my physical wheelhouse. But did I mention we got the most awesome driver ever? He helped Tom carry me up the dune so I could see what everyone else was seeing! I won’t lie; the view was pretty awesome :). But the courtesies of our driver Javeed didn’t stop there.
We left the photo stop early so we could get to the camp before the rest of the crowd. The first thing we saw was the camels ready for riders. Yes. Yes, I did. Once again, Tom and Javeed carried me to place me on top of the camel (whose name I didn’t catch). I freaked out a bit when the camel got up and held on to the handle in front of me for dear life! But soon we started walking, and it was pretty much like riding a horse. I think I had a permagrin on my face for the whole five minutes it took us to ride around the circle :).
After the ride, Javeed drove us around to the other camp entrance so we could get settled before the rest of the tour group arrived. It was a small group, so we actually had an entire bungalow to ourselves. But the most unbelievable part? Out here in the middle of nowhere, they had a separate wheelchair accessible bathroom! And one of the most functional I’ve ever seen, with grab bars everywhere at just the perfect height, a higher toilet seat, and even a grab handle hanging from the ceiling! I just couldn’t believe it, and it made the evening that much easier.
Flights to Dubai can be VERY long. Give your legs a rest with this inflatable foot rest to help your circulation: STYDDI 2 Pack Inflatable Foot Rest Pillow Cushion
Since we were the only ones in the camp for around fifteen minutes, Javeed and Tom carried me to a central location so that the people who were part of the camp could come to me. I got a beautiful henna tattoo on my right hand, and even got to hold and pet a falcon! We went back to our seats to relax for a bit, and then the first show started. Have you ever heard of a whirling dervish? It’s a dance performed by a Sufi order in Turkey, and basically involves a man spinning non-stop for several minutes. This particular dancer was wearing a costume that lit up, which was super cool!
After that was dinner, which was delicious, and a belly dancing show. When that wrapped up, it was time for us to head back to Tom and Rebecca’s apartment. As I mentioned earlier, our driver Javeed was so incredibly kind and helpful when it came to getting me closer to things and helping carry my anywhere I needed to go. At first I thought he was doing it because it was just his job. But while we were driving back and the car got quiet, he said to me that I remind him of his daughter. I thought it was maybe because I look like her. But he tells us this story. A huge tsunami hit India in 2004, and killed 230,000 people in 14 countries. The tsunami killed Javeed’s sister and her husband, leaving behind two children. Javeed and his wife took the children in as his own, and they know Javeed and his wife as their parents. So it turns out that Javeed’s neice/daughter has polio and can’t walk. She’s in a wheelchair too (she’s now 26 years old), and as he put it, always wants to “do and go.” He said because of me his mind and heart had been in India all day because I reminded him so much of his daughter. It took everything I had not to start crying on the spot. Here’s this man who’s just supposed to drive us around and treated me like the queen of the world for a day, just because I remind him of his daughter’s strong spirit. Connections are made in parts of the world where you least expect it, and despite the AMAZING things I did that day, that conversation was the absolute highlight.
If you travel with a manual wheelchair and meet the physical requirements I’ve explained above, then you have to do this tour when you visit Dubai! Just contact Orient Tours and let them know what your needs are. And make sure you ask for Javeed as your driver!