Dubai Dairies: The Desert Safari Experience

There is a place where golden sand is so fine it melts like butter through the spaces between your fingers, where lizards cartwheel down dunes and where an animal's two rows of extra-long eyelashes make it the envy of every woman alive. You may not believe it but this place really does exist, and it is called the Arabian desert.

I was in Dubai recently for a milestone birthday celebration, and the most memorable part of my trip was a desert safari organized by Platinum Heritage Luxury Tours.

Twas' the day before Thanksgiving. . .

A few days before Thanksgiving, I took a Bart train from San Francisco to the suburb of Pleasanton.  It was one of those mornings that signal Thanksgiving is near-a cloudless sky, temperatures bracing enough to warrant diving into the coat closet to locate a scarf and gloves, and the sight of fallen leaves swirling in a neighborhood park as I walked to the Bart station.  A billboard loomed above me, advertising a turkey dinner for only $39.99 at Marie Callender's.

I love the week leading up to Thanksgiving because of the anticipation of my family coming together again.  I love the reminders on T.V., on radio and on social media to be grateful for what you have and hold because it allows me a moment to close my eyes and thank the Universe that my house echoes with laughter and joy again.

Locked out. . .

"I've never had an elevator break down on me," I said to the brown-eyed, auburn-haired stranger, I was riding it with on 450 Sutter Street, San Francisco.  

"Shh, shh," she admonished, laying a finger on her lips.  "Don't say it out loud.  This one's already broken down twice."

"What did you do, then?" I asked with morbid curiosity, a die-hard suburbanite visiting San Francisco for the day and looking for some tame adventure.  Being rescued from a stuck elevator would qualify.

She shrugged and exited the elevator with rapid strides.  I continued on to my floor and was a little disappointed when I arrived without any upheaval.  The lingering disappointment remained with me after I'd been examined by my doctor and found 'healthy as a horse.'  Time to go home to placid Pleasanton.  

Dressing up for Halloween. . .

"It's so much fun to dress up for Halloween," my ABCD (that's short for American-born-confused-desi) friend, Aarti opinioned.  "The Jones always put up a huge tent in their yard and invite everyone who lives on the block to it."

I'd just migrated to California and Halloween, and block parties were as unfamiliar to me as a fish to desert dunes.  Why would you ever want to dress up for Halloween, I thought, with a slight shudder?  "Ghouls and ghosts and everything bloody and gore! No, thank you," I continued.

It's always assualt-style weapons: an immigrant's perspective . . .

"America is not my chosen home, not even the place of my birth.  Just a spot where it seemed safe to go to escape certain dangers.  But safety I discover, is only temporary.  No place guarantees it to  anyone forever.  I have stayed because there is no other place to go."  - Irene Klepfisz, "Bashert"

I was in Vegas last weekend.  Three days after the massacre at Mandalay Bay.  I expected to find a ghost town or at least a city crawling with police sirens; 'Do Not Cross' yellow tape; and/or gun-toting security patrols. Nope. Instead, while the world watched as another American male murdered other Americans on American soil, Sin City was business as usual. The poker tables at Bellagio where I stayed were full.  The slot machines were humming.  Later that night while attending a private celebration at the Hakassan night club, I observed how quickly the dance floor got packed with young nubile bodies.  At midnight there was a line snaking outside the women's restroom.

Is it because this is America's new reality, I asked myself.

There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel the whole time as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne—bubbling over with heart-felt gratitude for being alive.”  - Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa) in a letter to his sister.

Anybody fortunate to go on an African safari[1] understands how difficult it is to answer the question: If you’ve seen the Big 5 (http://www.anoopjudge.com/blog/african-safari-adventure-the-big-5) on your first game drive, why continue with it? The early start, the four-hour game drive in the scorching African sun, the hard seats and the bumping and bouncing around in the dust?

The answer:  the essence of a safari is not just about seeing the exotic game (commonly known as the Big 5)—it is also about the dramatic landscapes unique to this continent, it people and its cultures.  For those who value being in the great outdoors, there is nothing more magical than a close encounter with the continent’s less famous but equally fascinating wildlife. 

African Safari Adventure: The Big 5

You wake up to the shrill insistent ring of the telephone.  Tring, tring, tring.  It demands an answer.  You squint at the clock on your bedside table.  It's only 5:30 a.m.  Your voice is slurred with speech when you answer. 

“Good morning, wakey, wakey ,” is the cheerful accented voice on the other end.

You groan, put on some clothes, grab coffee and bagel from the breakfast buffet at the dining room and run outside where an open jeep with a driver and ranger awaits you.  As you drive with six other people into the jungle, you begin to revel in the clean crisp morning air, the cold and the dust, the stark beauty of a panoramic sunrise, the silence of the morning and the sense of wilderness all around you . . .then, you round the corner and there in the middle of a half-paved road stands a leggy giraffe, it’s long neck rising majestically into the sky.

“Aaaaaah, morning sunshine,” we croon as the giraffe arches his neck towards a tree and begins to nibble on the leaves.

This is the quintessential African safari.  An adventure.