Al Ain Desert Safari

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The United Arab Emirates is a nation that used to conjure in my mind images of oil, desert and wealth. Other than that, I didn’t know much about it.  For example, did you know the UAE is a federation of 7 Emirates and Abu Dhabi is the capital? Neither did I. 

So, one January morning at the office, looking through the calendar of competitions of the ISSF for the year, I noticed that a Trap and Skeet World Cup would be taking place in Al Ain.  I looked it up and learned that it is an oasis city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, on the border with Oman.  An invitation from the President of the UAE Sports Federation made my boss decide at the last minute that we should go. 

To someone like me, who’s been traveling since I was a newborn, all trips are exciting, even work trips. But the most exciting ones are those where I’m going to a place that is a complete mystery to me. I packed a couple of dresses for dinners or special events (Woman Traveling for Work 101), my sunscreen (ok, guys, skip this next sentence if you want. Ladies, gather around. I have tried high-end sunscreens, drugstore ones, Korean skincare ones but I always come back to the Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50, which you can get here. It’s a fantastic primer, foundation goes on smoothly and lasts all day. OK, guys, you can come back now!).

From the moment we landed it seemed like I was in a movie. From the airport to the hotel it was all desert and a few camels I saw roaming around punctuated that feeling of being in an ancient time. We reached a hill that we drove around and around about 20 times until all of us were whoozy. Finally, after a 40-minute circular climb, we reached to top and the hotel was an oasis within an oasis (photo below).

The Opening Ceremony of the ISSF World Cup took place that evening. It was hot and humid when we arrived at the venue and received a very gracious welcome. An announcer welcomed all the spectators and a beautiful, unique parade of nations began, not of athletes, but beautiful women, each holding the name of one of the nations participating in the competitions. I had never seen a parade of the nations quite like this and the music playing in the background only made it more otherwordly and lovely.

Once all the nations represented were facing the audience, slowly, very slowly, a large group of men started to walk onto the middle of the lawn, moving in time with haunting, hypnotic Arabic music played by a group of musicians and a singer walking behind the men. The latter were tapping what I believe were riding crops in time with the music, repeating a soulful refrain after the singer. It was one of the most special opening ceremonies I had ever seen in all my years with the ISSF.

The next morning I had a surprising experience of a very different nature. My boss didn’t have any events until the evening, so I took a cab to a nearby shopping mall (well, nearby meaning, 40 minutes of circles down the hill and then 15 to the mall). Payless was the first shop I saw and then I saw Coldstone and from that moment I felt pulled out of the movie that I had been living in for the past 24 hours and back home!

Our hosts insisted the ladies should go to Dubai, for some “real shopping” they said. It was a 2-hour drive but worth every minute. I went back into the movie in my mind but now it was a luxurious version of that film. Dubai Mall…well, you have to see it to believe it. Check it out here.

That afternoon, in between the drive and the mall, I had a chance to experience first-hand the wealth of the United Arab Emirates. We were invited for mint tea (you MUST try it! It is the most delicious, refreshing beverage one could have in the desert and now I’m addicted! Get it here) at The Emirates Palace, a hotel that looks like a mirage rising out of the sand. Inside it is all gold domes and arches and what I imagine must be the scent of money.

Would you like to know what other adventures our hosts organized for us? Subscribe to my blog and you’ll receive the extra content in your email! They were things I never dreamed I would do.