Yeoh Siew Hoon’s day out in the desert near Dubai involved falcon viewing, sand dune bashing, camel rides and so much more.
Getting on the camel was the easy bit, but trying to stay on while it rose was more than tricky.
I thought I had the best job in the world until I met Bomber. Bomber is a falcon who only works for five minutes a day and spends the rest of her time in an air-conditioned room. The only time she comes out is to eat.
I was introduced to Bomber during a Dubai desert tour which included a falcon viewing and show. I learnt that falcons, in fact not indigenous to the desert, don’t fare well in hot climate, which is why Bomber has to spend most of her time in an air-conditioned environment. Brought in and trained by the Bedouins thousands of years ago, the falcon is now the national emblem of the United Arab Emirates.
For five minutes a day, Bomber gets to show off her prowess – female falcons fly at higher speeds than their male counterparts, up to 387 kilometres an hour – soaring through the sky and swooping in for her food. It’s during the dive that she reaches incredible speeds.
Her trainer doesn’t make it too easy for her – deliberately luring her by swinging food on a string over his head and then pulling it away just as she comes in for the kill. He does this a few times to lots of “oohs” and “aahs” from the audience as she soars overhead. When she finally gets her reward, the crowd is just as happy as she is.
We learnt that falcons are naturally lazy.
“They don’t want to work too hard for food and are always looking for the easy way out,” said the trainer, hailing from South Africa. “They specialise in hunting birds in-flight and can catch food three times bigger than themselves.”
Bomber’s home is the Dubai Desert Conservation Area, all 225 square kilometres of it, and as you drive through the desert, you catch glimpses of gazelles, oryx and hares. The “drive” here was rather loosely defined because the tour also included dune bashing. Up and down, and sideways, through the dunes, the four-wheel drive had us screaming with excitement – for the first 10 minutes – until we realised it was actually making us all quite sick. A distinct silence fell in the car as each of us struggled not to embarrass ourselves for the rest of the “drive”.
Getting out of the car with slightly wobbly legs, we realised the journey was not over – awaiting us were the camels that would take us to our dinner in the desert. Getting on the camel was the easy bit, but trying to stay on while it rose was more than tricky.
“Hold on tight, sit back, sit back,” our guide yelled at us as he saw us pitching forward with the movement of the camel.
Thankfully, none of us fell and we rocked-and-rolled our way through the desert. The trick is to sit back, let your body sync with the motion of the camel and keep your eye on the horizon. This trick doesn’t just help with balance – the view was rather spectacular because the sun was just beginning to set and the scene before us turned orange and gold. We were transported back to ancient times when nomads and their camels ruled the desert.
In a distance, we saw flickering lights, which indicated the position of our private tent where our butlers awaited. As the skies turned dark, the temperature dropped almost immediately. The coolness of the night was a nice respite from the heat of the day. Above us, stars twinkled– the lights of Dubai were far enough for us to still see the night sky at its most glorious.
We sat around a table and fancied ourselves to be nomads of old, exchanging stories and trading goods. Without Internet connectivity, we actually had to speak to each other. It was reassuring to know that the art of conversation was still alive among the eight of us who all happened to work in the Internet industry.
After the barbeque dinner, we moved to another seated area where shisha pipes were prepared for our enjoyment. Like proper nomads of old, we smoked the pipes, lay back on the cushions and looked up at the stars, surrounded by nothing but sand dunes and silence as we told each other more stories.
Out in the desert, that’s all you have – camels, stories, sand and stars.