But Nora, you are neither an oil baron’s daughter nor a hotel heiress, why did they let you in and how on EARTH did you afford to stay there?
Well you see, some years ago I found myself involved in a series of painfully sober college orientation ice breaker activities at the University of Toronto. You know the ones. Yea. They’re awful. But I do owe them a few very important friendships.
Enter Tia. What pint-sized Tia lacks in stature, she makes up for in personality. I liked her the sassy second I met her.
She did not like me.
But eventually I wore her down/won her over, and despite the fact that I left Toronto after freshman year she remains one of my favorite people. Tia is Syrian but was raised in Dubai, and after she finished college she returned home. These days she’s living in one of Dubai’s oldest gated communities (built in the 70s) with her awesome boyfriend Kaveh. They’ve decorated their humble abode with bits and pieces from their adventures abroad, in a style I like to call “stoner chic”. Their little nook could not be of greater contrast to the rest of the city, and unlike in most of hoity toity Dubai, I was very comfortable there during my visit.
Tia planned an amazing girl’s weekend for us. We ate fancy sushi at a fancy hotel and watched fancy girls with too much money stumble by in too high shoes, we went to High Tea at a different, but equally shmancy, hotel and drank with our pinkies up, we walked through the old neighborhoods and haggled at the ‘souk’, we ogled our way around the absurd malls that felt more like museums than places to shop, and we sat on her couch for hours eating hummus and gossiping about everything and nothing.
But the highlight of the weekend was our camping trip, if you can call it that.
When I arrived on Thursday, Tia asked if I’d be interested in swapping out our Friday night clubbing plan, for a camping trip on the beach with her friends. Since I haven’t stepped foot in a club in 7 years, and I’m more than OK with that, sand and stars sounded perfect to me.
When my friends in the US go camping we set a date a few weeks in advance, search around online for a campsite, make reservations, pack ingredients for s’mores and spend a mellow weekend hiking and sitting around a fire with a few beers.
This is NOT how Tia and friends go camping.
The day before I arrived they decided that they wanted to go camping, they wanted to go camping that weekend. They wanted to camp somewhere secluded, and they wanted to camp on a beach. Like us, they went online to find a site. But instead of researching state parks, Tia and friends used google earth to find a beach that fit their qualifications, wrote down the coordinates and carried on with their planning. The next step was renting a generator so that when they arrived they’d be able to set up a large tent strung with lights and complete with a not -so-mini DJ booth.
Can you believe they forgot the s’mores? Don’t worry, I brought the them.
So Friday night Tia, Kaveh, one other friend and I jumped in their car, put the location coordinates into an iPhone GPS and drove four hours through Dubai and Abu Dhabi on a highway parallel to the beach. The last half hour we drove through terrain that can’t quite be described as sand dunes, but definitely wasn’t a road either.
The campsite appeared at the end of our journey like a mirage. Out of the darkness we found light, and bumpin’ House music.
The tide was so far out at the point of the night that we could walk in damp sand for 20 minutes without reaching water. The sand was rich with algae that glowed in the dark, and if you smeared it on your skin you glowed too! We danced and talked and made s’mores into the wee hours of the morning.
Tia and I had been in charge of groceries, and Kaveh was in charge of packing the tent and sleeping bags. Kaveh DID pack a tent, a tiny tent, a tiny tent only big enough for two people. And no sleeping bags. Poor Kaveh slept outside.
Tia and I spent our few hours of sleep trying to keep warm by layering ourselves with every inch of fabric we’d packed for the overnight trip. I woke up in the early morning sunshine, to find Tia undressing me. She’d already gotten off my socks and was working on my skirt when I regained consciousness.
Nora: What’s up Tia?
Tia: It’s hot, we’re going swimming.
Nora: Right. Ok!
We emerged from our tent to find ourselves in a beautiful half desert/half beach setting, scenery it had been to dark to witness the night before. The water was in fact both too cold and too shallow for proper swimming, but the tide had returned to our site, and was perfect for wading.
We made a glorious open-fire breakfast of eggs and veggies, grilled haloumi, and fresh seafood that was the result of a trade with passerby bedouin fisherman the day before.
Yea. That happened.
We spent the day on the beach and returned to Dubai with a stunning sunset trailing behind us.