Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wahiba Challenged (or how to loose yourself in a great big sand box)

This must be the year of living dangerously, what with a return to diving, dog ownership, learning Arabic and Becky’s knitting, I thought that the Wahiba challenge sounded like a good idea.
Now I have done a fair few desert camps in my time with dune bashing thrown in as you know, but that’s hardly a challenge.
So when a friend asked if I would like to join him and a few others on a trip through the Wahiba, I thought ‘Why Not??’. I then went and asked Becky for permission. (I should make it clear at this point, that this was not the Wahiba Challenge, merely a weekend away experiencing serious desert driving with seasoned desert drivers).

So the day quickly arrived and I packed up my Jeep and set off to work, knowing that I had forgotten something (This time it was my Crocs). That afternoon I would jump ship early and meet up with my friend Simon before heading down to the Al Areesh desert camp for our first night.
Arriving just after nightfall, we met up with two other members of our party before having some dinner, and a chat before crawling away to our beds for an early night.

So the next morning the rest of the group arrived, a motley crew comprising seven Jeeps and nine people harking from Indonesia, the Netherland, Italy and England. We ‘aired down’ our tyres, put up our sand flags and discussed (with a little trepidation on my part) our journey.
For those of you that don’t know, taking the air out of your tyres is crucial to driving on the sand and as little as 2psi can be the difference between moving or getting completely bogged down. On average we took the pressure down to 9psi and went through the process again once the tyres had warmed up, on the down side at low pressure you run the risk of having the tyre come off the rim.
The other important bit of kit is the sand flag, in my case a red head scarf on the end of a long fishing rod. Before you start taking the mickey, the idea behind them is to see whether there is a car on the other side of the dune, before you come over the top and land on top of it.

We quickly moved into the dunes playing follow the leader, cutting our teeth on the odd steep incline and slowly building up confidence. It was then our fearless leader decided that there had been enough pussy footing around and promptly launched himself up an impressively high dune, power sliding sideways to the top.
I remember the words ‘No #$%#^*&* Way??’ left my mouth followed shortly afterwards with ‘He doesn’t expect us to follow, does he?’
Sure enough one by one we followed, but try as I might I just couldn’t reach the top, despite helpful hints from my companions. It was then that one of our party took a more direct approach, simply blasting straight up at full throttle until he reached the top and following his lead I found myself, to my great relief, sitting on top of the dune, no longer playing tail end charlie.

It was also with great relief that I was not the first or the second person to get stuck, being the new kid on the block I had no desire to upset the others, but sure enough my time came sooner rather that later, and again, and again and again……but hey, that’s all part of the fun.
A small note of caution when placing your cool box in the car, DON’T position it with the lid facing forward. After going over the top of one dune, my cool box opened and proceeded to deposit melted ice water over me and the passenger seat, squelch!

We stopped for lunch short of our intended site due to a squeaky drive shaft. No such thing as a service centre in the desert, it was a case of repairs on the hoof and in no time at all, a badly damaged U joint had been replaced with a new one, it’s amazing what you can find at the bottom of a handbag (or a glove box in this instance). Speak to a Jeep owner and you’ll hear of the joys of parts breaking and how easy it is to fix them, simply because they are so basic. It is not for nothing that a common motto of Jeep owners is “It’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand”.

For me there were two notable incidents to the afternoon and fortunately for me the first one came before the other and not vica versa.

It’s not all that clear from the photo, but I breached (went over the top) of the dune slightly faster than I had intended. Coupled with a slightly steeper than normal back side, the front wheels of my Jeep dug in deep, whilst the rear wheels did their level best to overtake (Over the top!!).
It was at this point that there was severe clenching of certain parts of my anatomy and I repeatedly chanted “Please Don’t Flip Over!” whilst simultaneously and somewhat pointlessly using my body weight to force the car back down on to four wheels. Suffice to say that someone up there was looking out for me at that particular point in time.

The second event of the afternoon revolved around something (I know not what) I had eaten earlier. Stomach cramps and numerous pit stops later, it was with the utmost relief when we stopped , set up camp and for me, went straight to bed.
Everyone else had dinner (No curry for me ) and chatted around the camp fire. However, I’m sure you’ll agree that the order of the afternoons incidents was the best outcome for everyone, most especially me.

The next morning we slowly emerged from our cocoons and prepared ourselves and our vehicles for the rest of the journey. I was still somewhat crook, so my much anticipated fry up was replaced with a banana and a cup of tea.
We drove off experiencing more of the wide expanse of nothingness that is the desert before finally reaching our intended target, a sand mountain.
Now, being a gormless newbie, I was blindly playing follow the leader and only casually noting that we were not making the same headway as the previous day and, that the dunes were tightly packed and only seemed to be going in one direction, UP!
It wasn’t until we reached the top that our fearless leader remarked with surprise (his) to the two newcomers (myself included) with the now infamous words “Not a lot of first timers would have attempted that climb, that was quite brave of you”
Brave my arse, I was just following you!!!! (I don’t remember if anyone was wearing an ‘I’m with Stupid’ T shirt)

I will say that the view and experience was well worth it.

In the two days we had travelled one hundred and twenty five kilometers from the Al Areesh camp at the beginning of the Wahiba to Falaj Al Mashayek, close to Sur.

During our journey I had practiced my Arabic on some poor unsuspecting Bedouins, learnt how to repair a drive shaft, as well as remount a tyre that had come off its rim, and most importantly how to really drive in the sand. Not bad, Hey??

Now, how can I persaud Becky to let me go again…………

********** Update **********
********* 28/03/10 *********

Here is the video of the trip kindly filmed and edited by Danielle

And I have a pass for this coming weekend, should be hot!!!


Chiaruga said...

Hey! Didn't know 'bout your blog!!
Wow wow wow!! Nina looks beautiful even when stuck! :)
Nice post!! and btw.. The movie is almost done... :)
See you soon.. on the dunes!

James said...

Really looking forward to seeing the movie, and bit upset that I can't make the next trip :o( Hope to see you again on the dunes....sometime

Chiaruga said...

hey! have a look on this!...

James said...

Great Movie, Looking forward to the next trip now!! Thanks