Ten Land Rovers drove into the desert each carrying between six and eight passengers in Arabic headgear. The drivers took different routes up, down, round and through the sand dunes. We saw no more than the occasional vehicle, giving the impression that the desert belonged to us. Arabian Oryx lifted their heads as we passed, unperturbed by the dust cloud flowing out behind.
Reaching a rendezvous point, we left the vehicles to clamber up the steep sides of sand dunes, the better to gaze across the desert as shadows lengthened and the sun settled lower towards the horizon. Desert shrubs and trees indicated the presence of water beneath the surface and later, on our way to dinner, the driver stopped to show us various examples of native vegetation.
Barely giving us time to clamber back into our Land Rover, the driver roared off. ‘He’s in a hurry. I’ll bounce out in a minute,’ I mouthed into Paul’s ear, clinging to the side of the vehicle in an effort to steady myself. The driver took us up dunes so steep we feared we might tip over, then pointed the Land Rover and accelerated up the next one, taking our breath away as he turned the wheel from side to side. We gasped and gripped whatever we could to ensure we didn’t spill out into the sand. But we arrived safely outside the remaining walls of an old fort. Here dinner was to be served in an area made up like a Bedouin camp.
The soft drinks offered on trays were very welcome as Paul and I settled on rugs laid over the sand.
A falconer stood in front, a bird on his arm. A falcon’s sight is ten times better than a human and it can see many things in a short time. The falconer explained that a hood keeps the bird quiet during transport and ensures it is alert when required. This bird was young, only two years old, but appeared well trained as its hood was removed and it flew up and away over our heads. Then the lure the falconer was swinging in a wide circle over his head proved irresistible and the falcon returned with a swoop to his trainer’s gloved hand.