sights and attractions culture and heritage The desert survival guide
The desert survival guide
Updated on 30 July 2017

The Bedouin were the people of the desert, often in transit, moving from water well to water well, avoiding or joining various tribal conflicts, and following the seasons for good weather bringing its vegetation for their animals. It was a very hard life; out in the elements with only fabric as their shelter - the tent.

What skills can they teach the adventurous visitor to their territory now?

Should you find yourself stuck in the desert, a modern Bedouin would go straight to their phone. Having the Dubai Police Application on your phones with a fully charged phone battery and car adaptor are now your essential tools for survival. Included in the app is an SOS (Save Our Souls) button. Even with no data package, switch on the mobile data and go to the app. When the big red button is pressed, it sends your GPS location to the emergency control room. An officer will call you for more details of the emergency and will come rescue you by car or helicopter. This app will work even beyond Dubai boundaries.

However, it’s essential to know methods to protect yourself and feel comfortable out in the desert conditions to enjoy one of nature’s most beautiful environments. 

When leaving for the desert always go with certified professionals or trusted friends and family; never alone with strangers. When leaving on your adventure, tell someone of your plans, including a time table and the vehicle description you will be going in. Then take with you, plenty of water (average 3 litres per person per day) and snacks which can take the desert sun and heat; such as dates, teas, dried food and flour. Matches for lighting a fire are also essential as is a blanket, a shovel and a metal pot. A blanket can provide shade when tucked into closed car windows and pinned down at an angle or towards a tree. To keep cooler, dig under the shade of the tent you have made as sand below the surface is cooler and more comfortable. A shovel is a helpful tool as are metal tracks from car or sporting shops in the region to help excavate yourself from sunken tires.

Before setting off, ensure you have a fourwheel drive vehicle.

If for some unforeseen circumstance you are in a sandy plot with only a two-wheel drive vehicle, know that it is your back wheels with the power and therefore the reverse gear is the best option. Never spin your wheels once you realise you are stuck, as your tires will only sink, making the challenge of moving even harder. Remember you are driving on fine grains of sand. Reduce your tire pressure while counting to 25 on each tire or to 15psi. Dig sand away from around your tires to make the smoothest surface possible and place greenery, car mats, or metal or wooden slats you brought with you down on the sand, up against the tires of the direction you plan to go. If you have any liquid beyond litres of water for your own consumption, wetting the sand can help firm it up. Once you plan to accelerate, do so very slowly or from a higher gear and with the four-wheel option in effect. Turning left and right quickly as you try to get out will also help. Once you are moving, drive swiftly and continue to move the steering wheel left and right as you drive back the way you came. 

In the desert...

After gathering firewood, light a fire and ensure you have enough firewood to sustain it for a few hours. Remember the desert can be quite cold in the summer but reaches scorching temperatures in the summer. Mix flour and water into a flat bread shape and lay it within the following layers: burning coals, sand, the dough, sand and glowing coals from the fire. Let it bake for roughly an hour and uncover. The bread is done when tapping on it reveals a hollow sound. Knock the sand off from the bread and it is ready to eat. Interestingly desert sand will not stick to the bread crust like beach sand. Pair it with dates and possibly a pot of tea you made over the fire and you have a traditional, humble meal of a Bedouin. Should you run out of water...do not hesitate to call the authorities. But worstcase scenario, rest in the sunlight hours and search for water near sunset. Digging straight down near the roots of trees will often yield a water supply. In a barren desert, try your luck where a sand dune meets a flat area of sand. At that angled point dig straight down. Trees which yield a white creamy film when the leaves or branches are cut are poisonous and should not be eaten. Trees that do not, can provide nutrition from their leaves, especially young sprouts as well as sucking on their roots. However, when searching for water or firewood, do not wander beyond keeping your car in view. It is very easy to get lost and confused in the desert. Thinking wandering on foot will be more helpful but it will not. Always stay with your car.

The desert is as enchanting and peaceful as it is daunting and dangerous. With the right preparation, knowledge and respect for nature, it can be enjoyed by those indigenous to her qualities as well as those first-time explorers. 

With thanks to... 

Salamah Ghudayer from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Call 04-3536666. www.cultures.ae

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