Checked out of our Abu Dhabi hotel bright and early. There were still a fair few gents in traditional dress standing about doing nothing in particular. That’s my primary impression of the UAE so far – there’s a lot of men standing around chatting to each other and I’m not quite sure what any of them are doing.
On our hour and a bit trip down the motorway to Dubai we passed the most natural desolation I’ve seen in a populated area. Blocks of nice looking flats and walled houses stand in the middle of sand. At school we used to sing a song about how “the foolish man built his house upon the sand”. Well, here they appear to be standing just fine.
The site of our first bit of filming today was very sandy indeed – the beach in front of the Burj al Arab hotel. You probably know it, it’s the one that looks like a big sail. Not sure I’ll ever consider sampling its 7 star luxury, even if I do have the money one day. Even though it’s moving into “winter” here it’s still absolutely burning hot and if I had a beach holiday in Dubai I’d probably end up coming home with severe skin damage. After rattling off a pass for our architecture song we were back on the bus and heading out into the desert to shoot a scene for the end of our song compilation show, where Iain and I speed off into the distance on quad bikes. I’d never ridden one before and, after getting mine stuck and covering myself in sand trying to reserve out of the hole I’d made, I got the hang of it and took it for a little spin after our scene was done.
By this point we were all starting to get a bit dried out by the desert heat, but there was no escape for us. After driving in our bus down a dirt road we reached our last location for the day – a nature reserve set up by one of the sheiks here, where tourists get to sample a test of life in a bedouin camp (essentially, a large area of sand). A couple of very nice Range Rovers picked us up and took us through the sand, past the sheik’s residence with it’s back garden covered in netting (so that his falcons don’t escape), and up onto a sand dune with a circular wall on top. Within the wall were several tents and places to lie about and a very nice man brewing up some Arab coffee for us (apparently 3 half cups is the polite amount to offer someone. Any more or less is considered rude, and if they give you a full cup it means “go away”).
We were here to film the making of bedouin bread, but before we could really get much done a sand storm whipped up. It wasn’t too bad within the walls, but when I ventured outside to film the sand whipping across the dunes (for a bit of online content for the CBBC website) I got a dose of sand into my eyes that then worked its way behind my contact lenses and sat there mildly irritating me for the rest of the shoot.
As the sun began to set a bus load of tourists turned up and kind of hijacked the place (which was fair enough considering they were spending over £100 each to be there), so we had to shoot as and when we could, and ended up eating our dinner sitting amongst them as the moon shone above us and a dancer in a purple dress flicked her hair around (apparently bringing disrespect and shame upon her family, but the tourists like it…).
Once I got back to our hotel and took my lenses out I realised I’d actually scratched my eyes with all the sand, and lay in bed for an hour and half trying to work out how I was going to get to sleep when it hurt to have my eyes open, but hurt to have them closed as well. A novel feeling, and one I would try to avoid if I was you.