With hindsight, vegetarian bean chilli probably wasn’t the brightest of ideas to bring for our Dubai desert camping trip supper, when you realise the following morning that you are 2 hours away from home and the luxury of a flushing toilet. But then again, the coffin sized cool box full of concentrated mojito mixture and ciders probably hadn’t helped…
It was new year’s day, and the first hangover of 2017 hit me like a meteor as I awoke in my tent somewhere in the middle of the sprawling sandpit of the UAE, and crawled on hands and knees into the piercing desert sun. Peeling my tongue from the roof of my mouth, and pulling on Uggs and sunglasses, I stumbled over to the still smouldering camp fire in search of water and painkillers, to find Stella laying face-down in the sand, covered in flies, and still clutching a bottle of cider.
“I think she’s dead,” croaked Rosa, who sat perched on a deckchair making half-hearted attempts at batting the flies off Stella as they swarmed around her. “The flies keep landing on her. I think she’s swallowed some.”
I slumped to my knees, lifted the sunglasses off my nose and peered at the body in front of me. Around Stella’s lips, tiny grains of sand whirred around with a faint exhalation of breath, only to be sucked back into her mouth on the inhale. It was faint, but it was a definite sign of life.
I looked around me; golden sand dunes in every direction and a couple of small, spindly bushes - certainly nothing that would suffice as a make-do loo and spare my modesty. We’d packed the 4x4’s with tents, air mattresses, duvets, feather pillows (I’m a princess when it comes to bedding, even in the desert) and cool boxes full of food and drinks for our new year’s eve celebrations, so surely someone could have strapped a portaloo to the roof-rack?!
Behind me someone else had stirred and was rooting around a cool box in the boot of the Pajero in search of water.
“Brody, I really need the loo.”
Brody looked up and surveyed me for a moment before looking around him with a puzzled expression.
“Just go behind Otto’s Hummer like everyone did last night.”
“No, Brody. I can’t do that.”
“You did last night…” “Yeah, but that was to pee.”
Brody’s sun-bleached eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement as he unscrewed the plastic bottle cap.
“I need more than a pee now.”
“Ohhhhhhh.” Puzzlement turned to alarm. “Can’t you wait? We’ll be packing up soonish.”
“No, I can’t wait, Brody. I really can’t…” I grimaced in the most lady-like fashion I could.
“Well, you’re just going to have to find a quiet spot over those sand dunes and dig a hole.” “Yes, that’s what I thought you’d say. Do I take loo roll?”
“Unless you want to wipe your arse on sand, then yes, I think you should.”
Scaling the dune wearing a mini skirt and Uggs (less to protect my feet from the scorching sand and more due to my camel spider paranoia), I decided to take no risks of fellow camp-mates accidently stumbling upon me, and scaled another dune - and another - just to be on the safe-side. Finally, I reached a little ghaf tree – like a cross between a mini willow and gum tree – and err, got down to business, hoping that a caravan of Bedouins on camels wouldn’t choose this moment to wander across the dunes and find me in my undignified state.
Business attended to, I clambered back over the sand and started my descent back into camp; an inelegant display of sliding and skating down the highest dune, trying to casually act like I’d just gone for a little walk in the middle of the desert and not to evacuate my bowels underneath the UAE’s national tree. Surreptitiously hiding the loo roll by my side, I noticed the boys fiddling about by the camp fire, and was halfway down when suddenly Rosa’s head appeared from behind the Hummer as she began to frantically scream at me:
“GET DOWN! QUICK! QUICKLY! THEY’RE PUTTING NAPALM ON THE FIRE!!”
Like a newborn deer on an ice skating rink, I twisted and tumbled down in what felt like a white rapid river of moving sand, falling over my own feet in a desperate attempt to get to the safety and cover of the Hummer. My dehydrated, hungover heart, beating out my chest with panic, and my befuddled brain unsure of what, where, when, how or why the boys were playing with weapons of warfare in our camp.
“Fuck! Stella! She’s still passed out by the fire! We should drag her to safety,” exclaimed Rosa, looking at me for guidance.
I looked over at the still unmoving body of my dear and close friend whom I had known since our teens, laying less then 6 feet from what was about to become in impromptu, and far more dangerous, pyrotechnics display.
“She’ll be fine,” I reassured Rosa. “We can always roll her in the sand if she catches alight.”
Hiding behind the safety of a vehicle filled with highly flammable fuel (ok, so we were hungover and not thinking straight) Rosa and I put our fingers in our ears, screwed our eyes tightly shut, cowered, and waited for the inevitable explosion…
Unscrewing our eyes we peered above the scorching bonnet of the Hummer. A small but bright white flame spluttered momentarily in the fire pit fizzling out and dying. Rosa and I looked at each other. Another spluttering of white flame; another fizzle.
“I don’t think it’s napalm, Rosa,” I said, eyeing the boys at the fire suspiciously. “And where would they have got napalm from anyway?” Rosa shrugged and took another swig of her hair of the dog cider, before we ventured out from our highly explosive ‘place of safety' in search of painkillers and left over crisps from the night before.
Some hours later when we had all packed up the camping gear in the scorching midday sun, Brody and I heaved a still unconscious Stella in to the back of the Pajero. Turning the air con up to stop the flies which still buzzed around her swarming in her gaping mouth and landing on her tongue, Brody started the engine and turned to me:
“So how did you like you’re first desert camping trip?”
“I loved it,’ I replied as I shuffled uncomfortably in my seat, trying to release the sand still trapped in my underwear. “But next time, I’d quite like to be closer to a proper toilet.”