How to… camp in the desert


It’s not all toasted marshmallows, Kumbya and delightful misunderstandings as to who is sleeping in which tent — there’s danger out there too. Here are some key pieces of advice.

Pick the right spot
If you’re going to pitch your tent out on the dunes then aim for one of the higher points. While it might seem more sheltered to set up in one of the lower hollows, it makes you less visible and the last thing you want is to be woken up first thing in the morning by an offroader sliding down the sand in a 4×4 — unable to avoid giving you a bull-bar alarm clock. Remember also, that while it rarely rains in the UAE, we do get flash floods in the wadi areas during this time of year due to water running off from the mountains. Remember that getting a phone signal in some of the more remote areas can be tricky.

Start a fire
Just use a lighter, you’re not Robinson Crusoe trying to rub two sticks together. However, getting a decent fire going, keeping it lit and doing it safely is a little harder. Make sure it’s a good distance from your tent — lightweight tents burn easily. Dig out a shallow pit in the sand and put firelighters or balled up newspaper in the middle, then over that make a tee-pee structure of light, twigs. Over that put another layer of wood, ensuring that it’s dry. Light the centre and resist the temptation to pour lots of petrol on top. Take enough kindling with you and don’t rely on finding wood out there.

Know which snakes are deadly
The majority of snakes in the UAE are not a big concern to people. In fact, only 15 per cent of snakes worldwide are dangerous to humans, but the one to watch out for in this country is the horned viper. Creamy beige in colour with dark patches on their backs they grow to about one metre and — as the name suggests — have little horns. They’re often confused with the fake horned viper (or Karama viper as its colloquially known) and are seriously dangerous snakes. They’re nocturnal, so you’d be unlucky to encounter one during the day unless you disturb their shady resting place. When in action, these vipers will weave from side-to-side and make a rattling noise — much like Bez from The Happy Mondays — and are usually easy to avoid, but if you are bitten then act fast. Identifying the snake that bit you will help a doctor so taking a photo, even with cameraphone, from a safe distance helps. Unlike in old films, do not try and suck the venom out by mouth as that only introduces bacteria to the area and can lead to infection. Likewise, do not apply a tight tourniquet as it cuts off blood flow and prevents venom from diluting itself through the system. Keep the person calm, don’t let them over-exert themselves and quickly get them to an actual hospital as smaller doctors and clinics are less likely to have the required antidote. Often the effects of a toxin don’t reach their peak until 60 minutes after being injected.


Deal with scorpion sting
Very few people die from scorpion stings and victims are out of danger within three hours of being stung, but it does hurt. It’s best to be cautious and although some in the UAE grow to as big as 150mm the rule in general is that the smaller types of scorpion are more poisonous. Scorpions glow under UV light so if you plan to spend a long time in the desert getting a UV light will help detect them, but generally the key is to always check your shoes before putting them back on and shake out bedding and sleeping bags before getting in and all clothing. If you are bitten, putting alcohol on the still will neutralise the venom, and then apply a cold compress (ice in a cloth if possible) for ten minutes to prevent swelling. Raising the limb will reduce the poison’s flow to your heart. If you start to feel dizziness, blurred vision, muscle spasms or other general allergic reactions then get to a doctor — otherwise it’s just a sting that they can’t help with.

Go equipped
Roughing it is half the fun, and while you don’t want to be packing a huge petrol generator, George Foreman grill, Xbox and your fridge, there are some items that you really should take with you into the great outdoors. A torch is a basic but many people find ones that you wear on a headband are better as they leave your hands free to change the tyre / get dressed / punch wandering goats / etc. Insect repellent and antihistamine cream are often forgotten, although after once going without them you won’t ever forget them again. The same goes for toilet roll. And a spare toilet roll. You’ll need carrier bags to put rubbish in, a full-stocked first aid kit and spare set of any daily item you use — the last thing you want is to lose a contact lense at 1am in the middle of the Arabian Desert.

[For Men’s Fitness magazine, Feb 2009]

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