Platinum Heritage runs an excellent safari operation. We were picked up by Ahmad, our guide, directly at our hotel in downtown Dubai and driven about an hour into the desert toward Al Ain in Abu Dhabi. The desert preserve is immaculate and located near to the main highway. While approaching, the fencing identifies the boundaries of the protected reserve area, but more importantly provides the first glimpse of the large herds of indigenous Oryx that run free here. It was at this point that my family and I could clearly see and hear how passionate our guide, Ahmad, was about the protection and nurturing of the local wildlife.
This theme of preservation and wildlife custodianship was recurrent from this point in the safari. We were given local kufiyeh headwear to protect our scalps and assigned to vintage Land Rover Defender open top jeeps to start our journey through the desert. The UAE desert during the summer is extremely hot, cruel and inhospitable, meaning seeing larger wildlife aside from the Oryx is rare, so it was the rare sighting of small critters that animated our jeep. The dunes during sunset are eerily quiet, expansive to the horizon, and become a spiritual open air space to connect with a unique biome that has necessitated local inhabitants and nomads develop specialized survival skills that have been handed down to proceeding generations over course of several millennia.
We watched a falconer demonstrate a fascinating falconry show as we enjoyed the sugary goodness of local mint tea. We then went to the bedouin enclosure for a short camel ride and refreshments, followed by an incredible multi course meal that included the most delectable grilled oysters (with butter and garlic) that I've ever eaten. The local lamb and chicken were outstanding. Throughout the meal, Ahmad was constantly checking on us, and bringing more food and drink whenever needed. After watching and participating in drumming and dancing to indigenous songs with local performers, the tour participants retired to the large and plush Arabian carpets to have tea and enjoy delicious hookah pipes as we gazed at the stars clearly visible above. There was a astronomy lecture as the cooling temperatures allowed guests to sit back and enjoy a temperate June evening.
We did not have an overnight tour. My understanding is that the summer heat makes the stone accommodations akin to large ovens, and when I went into one of the rooms, I can confirm that it was hot! We left at around 10pm, Ahmad driving us back to our downtown hotel. On the way out to the highway, a herd of camels were meandering down the road, seemingly showing up to wish us well as we departed. Ahmad was happy to stop and allow us to enjoy the experience, before getting us back into the bustling city. Thank you Ahmad for your spirit, kindness and knowledge, making the experience one that we look forward to repeating.