Up at 5:30 to be on time for our 6:00 am pickup for a ride to the desert were we are to discover the art of falconry hunting. Our driver Rafiq welcomes us on board a 4×4 and it soon transpires that we are the only one in the tour today.
The drive downtown past the Burj al Khalifa is nice, the traffic is fluid and the sun starts rising. On the stretch to the desert conservation area, Rafiq points at a ginormous dirt mountain along the highway, with loads of trucks climbing it. It’s a landfill, the Dubai city waste dump. It’s quite impressive. The next sight across the desert is the camel race track complete with camel hospital, camel market and camel holds.
We reach the conservation area as hot air balloons start their descent for a breakfast in the desert. A short ride on the sand tracks leads us to a small oasis were we are again the only guests for the falcon presentation. A young South African guy is here with four birds of prey: three hooded falcons are perched quietly while a third mystery bird is screeching in a pet box, we will discover later that it’s a little owl.
We settle with a cup of tea to discover how the birds have been trained by the Bedouins since centuries to hunt small mammals and wild turkey to supplement their diet.
Some of the birds can survive the heat of the desert, but mostly they are just migrating through Arabia as the white Gyr Falcon that we are first introduced to. They are kept in air conditioned rooms and brought out for hunting only when the temperatures are cooler.
It’s forbidden to hunt in the UAE, so rich Emiratis fly their birds first class to go hunt in countries where this is legal. We are demonstrated how the birds are taught to catch a lure waved by it’s master at the end of a pole. We get to hold the birds after they caught their prey.
Before feeding the birds ourselves, it’s time for breakfast. We are presented with boxes with fruit salad, a muffin and a croissant with strawberry jam. Much more to our liking than the dead chicks we then proceed to feed to a larger brown falcon and a little barn owl. It’s always amazing to hold a wild animal, and indeed the birds are still wild and ready to leave if there is no more food involved.
As we leave the beautiful sand dunes, we catch a view of cute minuscule gazelles. And soon we are back in the concrete jungle of Dubai.
Ryo in the desert
A short nap and we are headed to Abu Dhabi city, to check the last of the seven Emirates on our list. It’s an hour drive and we hit the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Mosque at noon, a very impressive white marble building. Sandra has to done an abaya before stepping in the holy perimeter. There is a sizable crowd of visitor. We manage to check the prayer room and it’s extravagant chandeliers and carpet just before the prayer. It’s a beautiful building, but we find the decoration inside less harmonious than at the Sultan Quaboos mosque in Mascate.
By two o’clock we have reached the corniche, parked the car and located the Café du Roi were we enjoy a sandwich en terrasse. Our waiter is Moroccan and converses with us in French. We quickly dip our feet in the sea before boarding our vehicle for a drive along the corniche and on a spectacular highway on bridges through the eastern mangroves and lagoons.
We arrive in time for Ryo to take advantage of the pool before heading for an Iranian dinner at a restaurant not too far from the hotel. The mixed grill we share is very tasty.