When you're in amongst the manicured parks and green lawns of Abu Dhabi City, (all watered by hugely costly desalinated water), it can be a little difficult to appreciate that 50 years ago this was all just desert. So, to get back to the Emirate's roots out there in the shifting sands of the desert, you have to drive out of town and get out onto the evocative dunes.
In the old days, the mode of transport was obviously the camel, but these days there's a new Ship of the Desert – in the slightly less enigmatic form of the Toyota Land Cruiser. So, we drove out of town to the sands, deflated our tyres and began bashing those dunes. The whole ride had a feel of a sand-based rollercoaster, as we bounced about, cruising up the steep dune with blue sky the only thing we could see out of the windscreen; before zooming back down again, with a windscreen-ful of sand the only thing in sight.
The most hair-raising thing was when we slid sideways down a steep dune, sand flying everywhere, the engine screaming, the wheels spinning, feeling like we were out of control. We were at such acute angles that it seemed certain that we'd topple over. Of course, as with most things in Abu Dhabi, the fear was slightly manufactured, because the skilful driver knew exactly what he was doing.
The whole experience oscillated between exhilarating and slightly nauseating as I hung on for grim death, praying for deliverance; but overall it was great fun (although not an experience I want to repeat for a good couple of years).