Over the years, I had built a list of places I've wanted to travel to and things I've wanted to experience. Traveling to the Middle East was always in the plans at some point, but it was never my "next stop." At the time, life hit a depressing spiral, and I was more than overwhelmed. We have all been there, and I did what a lot of us do - I ran. I was willing to run as far as I could, and my dad happened to be working out in Abu Dhabi. "Perfect, I'll go half-way (literally) around the world. Just get me off this continent." I booked the cheapest ticket I could find and 5 days later I was gone. I did no planning, and just threw some clothes in a bag.
After more than 24 hours of flying and layovers I had finally touched down in Abu Dhabi and found a taxi to take me to my dad's hotel. When I had gotten there my dad asked what my plans were. I told him I had none, but that I just could not be at home right now. Honestly, I wasn't sure what I was looking for. Maybe I was looking for some sort of peace of mind, but even that wasn't guaranteed miles away. I could have sat in that hotel room for the next 7 days, and been perfectly fine with it. However, the next day I woke up and felt it was best to venture around and see what was out there.
If you are familiar with traveling to any major city/tourist destination, then you know you will always stumble upon a vendor/tour guide offering the experience of a lifetime. I wasn't too worried about finding something to do. I was staying at the Hilton on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. There they were in my own hotel lobby, pamphlets offering all sorts of tours and adventures. The one that stood out to me the most was a half day trip out to the desert. A driver would take you in a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle out to the empty desert where you would fly up and down sand dunes the size of houses. I was not going to pass this up. The concierge service at the Hilton contacted the travel guide for me, and all I had to do was be ready in the lobby at 4pm. Easy enough.
4pm came around and I was ready. A 4WD Jeep pulled up to my hotel at 4pm and I hopped into the front seat. There were already two other tourists, an older couple, sitting in the back who were both Italian. I don't speak a word of Italian, but you learn how to communicate with shoddy gestures over the course of your traveling years. I think I greeted them properly. If not, smiling has always seemed to work in whatever country I have been in. I buckled up and we were off.
If you are not familiar with the middle east, your generalizations are probably correct. No more than 20-30 min of driving out of a major city and you hit open desert. It is open desert in every direction you look. It actually makes you appreciate cities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai even more when you realize how such marvelous buildings and infrastructure were built in the middle of nowhere. The juxtaposition of the two environments highlights this engineering feat. After getting this far out of the city we met up with two other jeeps filled with passengers. And this is when the fun really began. The driver handed all of us plastic bags and implied that we may be needing them.
All of our drivers get off the only paved road in miles and begin to just drive. I had no clue where we were headed, and I really didn't care. The jeeps hit the open sand at 70+ mph and now we're flying. Have you ever looked around you and the only things you could see were 10-20 foot sand dunes? I felt like I was in a Mad Max/Indiana Jones flick, the way we were attacking these hills. We were absolutely flying - drifting and turning into every sand dune we approached. The tires of the jeeps would pick up sand and shoot it 10 feet into the air. As Aziz Ansari would say, "SAND EVERYWHERE!" If you get car or motion sick easily, this is not something for you. I on the other hand love stuff like this. We could have rolled our jeep over and I would have kept laughing. The couple in the back could not handle it at all. I am not kidding, but the only thing I could hear from the back seats over and over were "Mama mia!" We continue to drive around the desert for about an hour when we finally stop to watch the sunset.
As we are sitting there, watching the sun slowly set, one of the most organic things happen. A caravan of camels are slowly crossing across the desert. I was not sure where they were headed. I stood there, staring at the sun, and they trudged right in front of me, feet away. Digressing for a bit, this trip was so last minute and spontaneous that I had only really packed clothes. For that moment, I wish I had packed a dslr camera or at least a point of shoot. Working with what I had, I grabbed my iPhone out of my pocket and snapped a few photos to capture the scene. It was one of the most serene moments of my life. It was not about me or my problems. It was just life trudging forward with no rhyme or reason. When I stopped and just let myself absorb life at that exact second, I realized how amazing this really was. I was at peace. I made such an effort to run and escape my world, but the world had just given me exactly what I needed in the last place I would expect.
I now like to tell my friends that one of my favorite photos I have taken was done with an iPhone 4.