“Dune Bashing.”

As soon as I heard the term, I know I wanted to go do it. I’ve been in Doha, Qatar since the start of the new year running a conference for work.  As part of an effort to let attendees relax and get to know the country better, our partners organized a caravan of off-road vehicles to take us romping around the desert near the Saudi border.  The ride was actually quite gentle compared to my past experience in the Egyptian Sahara, but it was still thrilling to cruise along the very edge of a dune, and bounce around the desert for a while.

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At this camp at the edge of the desert, about an hour away from the city of Doha, we took a break while the drivers got to work. They let the air out of all the tires, filling their air was a loud hiss that could be heard over the wind whistling through the sand. We enjoyed tea and huddle for warmth while some friends took camel rides around the tent.

dune-bashing-doha-qatar-middle-east-cars-dunes-in-the-desertThe angle was actually even crazier because I was also in a car at an angle, and didn’t have the good sense to use my new camera’s internal level to straighten out the horizon (which also had its own slopes.)

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A US dollar on the mirror and oil rigs in the background.

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Eventually we got out, and it was only a matter of time before the participants started going down the dunes.

Some locals I talked to said that dune bashing is one of the few forms of local entertainment, especially in a city that heavily restricts access to alcohol. A GPS can be used to navigate, although our drivers clearly knew the route by heart. Only a couple of the cars, including mine, were ever in the lead, with the rest following up behind. They wove in and out amongst each other, each trying to outdo the others.

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Jumping clear off the dune!

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Maja, one of the fellows, and I, rocking our work sweatshirts. I think this is one of only two pictures of me in Qatar.

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Holding hands seemed to be a popular method, but it led to a lot of people face-planting.  After falling, the girl on the left sand-angeled her way to the bottom.  The bottom is actually part of an inland sea, which fills when the tide comes in.

From here, we could see the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a far larger country just across the water. Qatar is an incredibly tiny oil-rich nation that is less well-known than its fellow GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) members like the UAE, which is famous for the excessive luxury of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, or Kuwait, which Americans tend to know from Operation Desert Storm. Nonetheless, Qatar has considerable finances to throw around and is looking to establish Doha as a top-of-the-line international city in the same cadre as Paris, Tokyo, and New York.

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After a week of sunshine and 70s, it was windy and chilly in the desert. The wind whipped sand all around, getting it into even the smallest crevice.

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It’s hard to get a sense of scale and distance, but check out how George, the man in the middle, is the same size as the man on the left’s foot.

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We stopped on the way back to have some tea and dip our feet in the Arabian Gulf. Everyone was veyr happy to be out of business attire and enjoying nature.

Cars in Doha tend to be enormous shiny SUVs with little regard for the oil crisis that seems to consume the rest of the world. It’s not uncommon for groups of friends to go out dune bashing on their own, in their own vehicles, unlike my group that was on a specific tour. I can’t imagine ever feeling comfortable enough to drive these myself.

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Qatar tends to be ironically slow on the uptake when it comes to facilitating spending. Recently, these places to fill your tires back up with air have sprung up.

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This experience, of course, reminded me of our full-day swimming, romping and dune-boarding adventure in Egypt. While this trip was shorter due to time constraints, it was great to see some more of Qatar. I think everyone who came was happy to get out of the city (I am a city girl but I need frequent doses of nature), and more importantly, to get away from the conference center and have a few laughs without spending half their rent on a glass of wine. Dune bashing was a great way to spend my last day in Qatar, and it made me excited to see more life outside of a conference hall.

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